When Robbie Fulks asked if he could bring Jenny Scheinman, the “jazz fiddling lady,” up to the house for a show, it was only three weeks before the date he was looking for, and just four weeks before he was playing the Waterfront Fest in town for free. The Waterfront people didn’t mind at all, and of course I’m happy to have Fulks whenever he wants to play. We didn’t need two shows this time, but the pair did sell the one out no problem. I only knew Scheinman by her association with Fulks, but there were several people who said they had come just to see her. And judging by the balanced CD sales at the end of the night, the audience was equally impressed with both.
They traded tunes for ninety minutes, including several of each from their new releases. Fulks’ terrific Gone Away Backward came out last year, while Scheinman’s newest The Littlest Prisoner was just released a few weeks earlier on Sony Records. “You know it has to be good if it came out on Sony,” Fulks joked, “they don’t put just anything out. Believe me, I’ve asked.” She also collected some notable guest stars, including Bruce Cogburn, to play on it. The list is so impressive that Scheinman barely plays on it all, well, according to Fulks at least. It’s obvious he’s kidding because having seen her play, she doesn’t need any help at all. It was the first time that Fulks had been to the basement without the other Robbie (Gjersoe), but Scheinman proved to be just as talented an improviser, following Fulks wherever he led.
Robbie’s half contained familiar favorites like traditional show closer “Let’s Kill Saturday Night,” which works any night of the week, and “North Carolina is the Cigarette State,” which happened earlier in the set than I was used to. He also took requests, even playing two for one attendee, though he did give her a little bit of a hard time, “didn’t you already get a request?” The second request turned out to be “Cocktails,” which he played slightly straighter than usual, and when he got the audience to sing along on the final chorus it was perhaps the best basement singing I’ve heard. Scheinman played extensively on Backward, so it was great to hear her playing those original fiddle parts. They opened with “Long I Ride” on which Fulks didn’t strum a note till halfway through, instead belting it out to the hoedown fiddle backing. He tried to give the storyline to “Sometimes the Grass Is Really Greener,” but eventually decided that actually the song doesn’t make any sense (he may be right). The dark “I’ll Trade You Money for Wine” was awe inspiring in the silent basement. There was even a new tune “Carolina Girls” inspired by a class reunion, “Jenny’s never played this, but watch how fast she picks this up,” and we did.
Scheinman balanced Fulks’ occasional silliness with songs about hurricane aftermath and earthquakes. The lovely title track is a lullaby to her unborn daughter, the prisoner imagery intriguing. It would be easy to leave the show only remembering her remarkable fiddling, but that song, and the entire album, definitely grow on you. Those folks who picked up her record knew what they were doing. This show was so different from what Fulks had planned for the Waterfront Festival the next week, and in fact pretty much every show he does, that he’s always worth seeing.