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Concert Reviews:
Glen Campbell brings perspective to Ann Arbor Folk Festival
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK



ANN ARBOR -- Folk music is a place where poignancy and celebration coexist. Where ideals and realities rub elbows. Where hello and goodbye can be uttered at the same time, and in the same song.

And nowhere was that made clearer than during the Ark's 35th Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival.

Glen Campbell, who performed on Saturday (Jan. 28) at U-M's Hill Auditorium, is deep into his battle with Alzheimer's Disease and in the midst of one final tour rather than letting him take it quietly. His 45 minutes on stage were marked by the toll it's taking on him, but bolstered by a palpable attitude that he's going down swinging -- or at least singing.

Aided by teleprompters and gently guided along by band members -- particularly his daughter, Ashley (one of three of his children in the group), and longtime keyboardist and musical director T.J. Kuenster -- Campbell struggled through the opening "Gentle On My Mind" but hit stride with "Galveston" and lit up "Try a Little Kindness" and "Lovesick Blues" with solid guitar solos and, in the case of the latter, yodels. He and Ashley vamped through "Dueling Banjos," while "Any Trouble" and "It's Your Amazing Grace" -- both from Campbell's new, and final, album "Ghost on the Canvas" -- more than held their own alongside lushly rendered renditions of hits such as "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman," "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Southern Nights."

Campbell certainly acknowledged his difficulties, telling the Hill audience with a self-deprecating smile that "I forget a lot nowadays" and openly reacting to his fluffs. But Campbell's resilient spirit carried the set, and as he closed with the quietly triumphant "A Better Place," Campbell left the impression that he'd gained more over the years than he'll ever lose.

That certainly placed a weighty and life-affirming perspective on the festival's usual mix of old friends and new discoveries, and on the blend of various and varied styles that can fall under the broad folk umbrella -- which is exactly what makes it such a consistently potent annual exhibition. Young groups such as Elephant Revival and David Wax Museum on Friday (Jan. 27) and Caravan of Thieves on Saturday brought a rowdy, stomping exuberance to the Hill stage, while Carbon Leaf's harmonic, one-microphone set on Friday and performances by Sunny War (Friday) and Seth Grier and Sarah Jarosz (Saturday) introduced fresh and unique voices to the community. Meanwhile, Devotchka (Friday) and Rochester Adams High School graduate (and Madonna's brother-in-law) Joe Henry (Saturday) invigorated some and puzzled others with sounds draw from eastern European gypsy cultures and noir, saloony ambience, respectively.

And emcee Heywood Banks improved from Friday to Saturday, combining offhanded one-liners with comic songs such as "Toast" and "Big Butter Jesus."

Frequent festival guests Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith both pleased Saturday's crowd with solid, if unsurprising, performances. Harris and her crack quintet, the Red Dirt Boys, delivered polished renditions of "Six White Cadillacs," Gillian Welch's "Orphan Girl," the Loretta Lynn-popularized "Blue Kentucky Girl" and "(Talk To Me of) Mendicino)" along with songs from her latest album, 2011's "Hard Bargain," including tributes to Gram Parsons ("The Road") and Kate McGarrigle ("Darlin' Kate"). She also brought many of Saturday's performers back on stage to close the festival with her lullaby "Rough and Rocky."

Griffith, meanwhile, offered a more stripped-down set with three backing musicians, leading a singalong on John Prine's "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness," telling stories about her own "Simple Life," "Listen to the Radio," "It's a Hard Life" and "The Loving Kind," and introducing the upbeat "Hell No I'm Not Alright" that's slated for an album she's currently recording.

And Ryan Adams, who closed Friday's show, fessed up to his temperamental reputation -- "Let's see if I can't send you home depressed," he cracked -- but scored with a low-key and mellow 13-song solo acoustic performance that focused more on his past ("Oh My Sweet Carolina," "My Winding Wheel," "Firecracker," "Let It Ride") than on his lauded 2011 release "Ashes & Fire." His performance, on piano, of "New York, New York" was a festival highlight, and his repartee with the audience was relaxed and funny; when one balcony fan shouted for "Free Bird," Adams responded, "What do you mean? There's so much natural reverb here." Maybe if next year's emcee slot is open...

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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