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Rounding ’Em Up 

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Rumor has it that the acoustic Café Siné was once upon a time the most happening haunt in New York City. The artistic breeders who frequented the place were pretty rattled when it closed its doors in the mid-’90s, but luckily the popular venue morphed into The Living Room, another club which blossomed into a haven for artists looking to be signed. Norah Jones’s career gestated there. So did October Project’s. Today, local recording artist Rebecca Martin, who also found her vehicle there, has a new mission in mind: to dangle a carrot before some of those Living Room artists and lure them up to the Hudson Valley. Finding the perfect upstate milieu to reel in the singer/songwriter has been a dubious task for Martin, but she’s confident that she’s finally unearthed her carrot: the Stone Ridge Center for Performing Arts, with its exciting new expansion strategy.

Martin, who lived in the Big Apple for 10 years, describes the city scene and its musicians as stellar. “Just about everyone who is doing something now is someone who was probably part of the scene down at the Living Room and Café Siné,” she says. “It was the place to play. My group, Once Blue, got signed out of there. So did Jeff Buckley, Katell Keineg, Jesse Harris, Richard Julian...we all played there in New York and still do. No matter where these artists currently are, it is still everyone’s old haunt. There are many different worlds at work here musically, but everyone’s worlds eventually collide if they stay in the city long enough.”

Martin finally moved Upstate and found a niche; she connected with the Benmarl Winery in Marlborough and began curating a monthly music scene for an intimate crowd. The venture lasted for almost a year and a half, but ultimately the lack of promotion sent her in search of another venue.

“There aren’t a lot of places to play around here if you’re a singer/songwriter,” she explains. “It’s been a very frustrating search. We want to get people out of the city and up here, to share.” Stone Ridge Center for the Performing Arts is the location she chanced upon, and now she’s working there part time as their production coordinator when her own gigs aren’t sending her elsewhere. “I believe in this place so much,” she says. “It’s local, it’s community, it’s all the things I feel strongly about. They’re planning a major renovation to turn the downstairs into a state-of-the-art performance space, an up-to-300-seat venue that would provide a location for people to come and play all kinds of music. But it’s still in the infancy of its planning stages. There’s such a need for places to play and good rooms that sound great in the Hudson Valley, where the audience has a great experience and the artists can do their best work. It’ll be an incredible resource for the area. But it’s a not-for-profit, which is always a challenge.”

For Martin’s upcoming “An Evening of Songs in the Round,” which will take place Saturday, April 17, at 8pm, six artists from that old Manhattan lair will shift their talents around, doing four or five songs a piece, but only playing one or two at a time. Taking turns. In the round, as they say. “This will give the audience a really intimate look into the songs,” says Martin. “I know these rounds exist everywhere, but this is quite a special group.”
Heading off this special group is Martin herself, whose work is described by Pat Metheny as “feeling and soul, with fantastic intonation,” and “interesting and beautifully conceived instrumentation.” She’s a beguiling, faultless jazz singer set loose in folk-pop territory—her stirring work heralds early Joni Mitchell—yet her bold, urgent material defies category. Martin began her professional career with a cluster of musicians that came out of that coveted Manhattan space—Once Blue. She toured with Shawn Colvin, Emmy Lou Harris, and Lilith Fair after releasing her first solo effort, Thoroughfare, in 1998. Her second release, Middlehope, was touted as one of the top 10 records of the year by the New York Times, and her third release, People Behave Like Ballads, will be released this summer.

Perhaps Larry John McNally is not a household name, but those who have recorded his songs are: Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, Don Henley, Chaka Khan, Nicolette Larson, Jennifer Warnes, and Rod Stewart. He didn’t write specifically for these artists, rather they sniffed him out. Now living in California, McNally’s career began in 1981 with the release of his Columbia debut. He terms his work “folk-Hendrix”, his literary lyrics and blues/folk/jazz guitar style landing him gigs from Tokyo to Kokomo. He’s just finished a tour of Holland, England, Sweden, and Amsterdam. “How do you say ‘jet lag’ and ‘crammed in like sardines’ in Dutch?” he exclaims in his online road diary. His lyrics are thoughtful, yet comical: “Whatever happened to Deborah Winger / I hope she didn’t marry a folksinger.”

A soprano with chilling warbles, 20-something Noe Venable is becoming a household name, at least amongst fans of Ani DiFranco; this powerhouse just finished a tour with her, with DiFranco calling Venable ‘ravishingly melodic.’ Also living in California and coming out for the Stone Ridge show, Venable is the visionary composer of five cds. Her latest, The World Is Bound By Secret Knots, was released last year. She’s toured with Boz Scaggs, They Might Be Giants, and Dar Williams, and has opened for Rhett Miller, Loudon Wainwright, Gillian Welch, Tim Finn, and Marshall Crenshaw. She was named one of San Francisco’s 100 most talented people by San Francisco magazine and was nominated for Best Female Vocalist at the California Music Awards for two consecutive years (other nominees have been Tracy Chapman, Gwen Stefani, Victoria Williams, and Aimee Mann). Her musical poems and exorcisms have been described as Tom Waits’ worst urban nightmares, Suzanne Vega streaking through the woods on opium, and Emily Dickinson on ’shrooms. But that’s a good kind of scary.

Timothy Hill is probably best known as a harmonic overtone singer. A student of Indian classical music, he was a member of David Hykes’ Harmonic Choir in the ‘80s, mastering the technique and being hailed by the New York Times as a virtuoso of Tibetan chant. The group’s 1983 release was praised by Newsweek as one of the year’s 10 best recordings, their music appearing in films such as Ghost and Dead Poet’s Society. Also an extraordinary singer, guitarist and pianist, his background began in folk and jazz, and he landed a gig on Katell Keineg’s 1997 release, Jet.

Rachel Loshak’s career is fueling full steam ahead after working with hot name Norah Jones. She’s both a singer and a bassist, honing a sophisticated orchestral approach to traditional pop, like a string quartet swapping their instruments for electronica. Her melodies are haunting and graceful, her voice pure as a bell. A New York transplant from Suffolk, England, she’s recorded three albums since 1999 and was featured alongside Norah Jones and Jesse Harris on the Best of the Living Room compilation, released in 2002. Loshak joined Norah Jones onstage at the latest Grammy Awards and has just finished up a tour of Ireland.

“You almost want to hear him speak more than anything, he’s so funny and wise,” says Rebecca Martin of Frank Tedesso, whose poignant insights mimic those of Alan Ginsberg and Van Morrison. He’ll do a little storytelling at the Stone Ridge event, yet his focus will be more on his traditional folk fares. Tedesso’s latest recording, Songs From Einstein’s Violin, was the debut for Windham Hill legend Will Ackerman’s recording label, Imaginary Roads Records. And he worked with Jack Hardy (founder of the Folkway Music series in New York), Suzanne Vega, and that whole folk scene. “He’s an old cult folk guy, a real poet and bard,” says Martin. Tedesso’s provocative “When Mohammed Came To The Mountain” was featured on the compilation cd Vigil: NY Songs Since 9/11.

Martin is ecstatic about the upcoming songwriters round and the possibility of packing the room, but she realizes that the Stone Ridge Center can only seat, perhaps, 150 to 175 people in that downstairs space. “But if we have more people than we can handle, that’s great, too,” she says happily. “It’ll be wonderful to share this music with that many folks upstate.” She promises two sets for one audience, with an intermission for all to enjoy a drink and a snack.

Storytelling and acoustic songs by six extraordinary artists for only $12 bucks. Perhaps things are looking up for the songwriter set here in the Hudson Valley. For more information on the Stone Ridge Center or this event, visit www.ccedrums.org or call (845) 687-8890.

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  • Songs in the Round preview. Rebecca Martin brings the music community upstate.

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