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By Valerie S. Nosek (Oxford Tribune, Oxford, PA, Oct. 18, 2001)
Bill Gessner brought his unusual sense of humor and unassuming performance style to the Friends Folk Club at the Oxford Friends Meeting House on Friday, Oct. 12. Traveling from Minneapolis, Minn., Gessner joked that his show in Oxford was also his East Coast release concert for his new (and only) CD, Welcome to Gessnerville, Population 19.
"These are all original songs and there's a lot of opportunity for you to sing along, so join in," Gessner said, as he prepared to sing his first song. "Stuntman" was the audience's first glimpse into the quiet, odd humor in Gessner's songwriting. "I'm the guy they call to take the fall," Gessner said, as he sang literally (and probably metaphorically) about the "stuntman." A man who can handle anything dished out to him.
"The next song came from me thinking about the whole idea of the universe and the recycling nature of it," Gessner said. "Past lives" had people chuckling as Gessner sang about who he may have been in a previous life. "Past lives, we don't know much about them, where would we be without them," Gessner sang.
Another fun one that got the audience singing along on the chorus, was "Rhode Island." Whereas most people dream of escaping to some place warm or exotic, Gessner's idea of paradise in this song was to get to R.I. This was also a fine example of how easy Gessner's music is to sing to, as people were not only singing along, but also trying out harmonies.
While the 17 song set (two sets) contained plenty of humorous songs, there was also a sensitive, philosophical side to Gessner's music. Gessner sang of common bonds between people. Sounding very Woody Guthrie-ish, Gessner sang "Hear the Song" about "everyday, everywhere there's a song we all share."
This is a love song in the realm of co-dependence," Gessner said of "Tell Me I'm Nobody's Fool." "You know, co-dependency got a bad rap a while ago, but if you think about it, we're really co-dependent upon each other. I think that's really coming out, especially right now."
And, in perhaps one of his most beautiful thoughts, was the song, "Heaven and Earth." "Heaven and earth are not far apart," sang Gessner. "We'll each have a vision we'll share on the way. Like the bridge that we all are between heaven and earth."
In "I Will Come For You", Gessner was accompanied by Charlie Phillips, who also opened for Gessner. This selection had an Appalachian folk sound that was both fast moving and uplifting.
"Cosy's Waltz" was an instrumental reminiscent of, and equally worthy as, an "Ashokan Farewell", well known from the PBS series The Civil War; by Ken Bums.
Gessner ended the night with a song that sent the audience off humming the tune and thinking about the words. "Love is large" was a peaceful song about living life right and in a loving manner, because "though the time we live is small, love is large."
Looking to take a break from what was otherwise a hectic day in retail, I put in Bill Gessner's "Welcome to Gessnerville" for the first time. It turned out to be just what I was looking for. Unpretentious, straightforward, well-crafted songs sung in the unabashed and heartfelt voice of Bill himself supported by a righteous band of musicians and backup vocals.
The music itself involves guitar, mandolin, accordion, acoustic bass, slide guitars, fiddle, percussion, cello, Hammond organ and great vocal harmonies. The tunes, from honest to ethereal to hand clapping sing-alongs, felt instantly familiar and comfortable with the simple and plaintive, well produced vocals.
Much of the 19 song CD, recorded in Minneapolis, MN and Asheville, NC studios and released in 2001, has a folksy, bluegrassy vibe running through it. The well packaged independent effort includes a full color, fold out cover and a 16 page songbook which helps to put Bill's lyrical content into perspective by introducing you to the artist, his friends and a herd of cows. Short intros and photos in the songbook prep your mind and help put you in the space the songs came from, including 'As Long As I Have You' about life in northern states, 'All She Ever Wanted', an ode to road travels, and the beautiful instrumental opening and closing song, 'Cosy's Waltz'.
If clever, infectious songs sung with a nod to the influence of folk heroes and story telling are what you like, this CD would make a nice addition to your collection of undiscovered, modern day troubadours.
- from: 'food fight', an arts and opinion journal by and
in the natural foods industry
Issue 1, Late 2002
FoodFight, 2370 E. Stadium Ave., PMB 360
Ann Arbor, MI 48104