Review from Tenafly, NJ II

It's harder for me to do justice to what so astonished me about RT's
playing on so many of my favorite songs, because I'm no guitarist. All I
can say is that on every single one of those musical bridges RT often
improvs on, in songs such as Shoot Out the Lights, Crawl Back, VBL, Bright
Lights, Valerie, Cooksferry Queen, One Door Opens, and Wall of Death, RT
made not just me but many audience members around me audibly gasp,
exclaim, or even laugh in disbelief. Most of these songs were interrupted
by outbursts of audience applause, sometimes even cheering. On every one
of these songs, I thought I knew what to expect, but he pulled out
something --from where?!? -- that I'd never heard before and couldn't
believe I was hearing [and seeing -- those fingers fly so fast!]. Every
one of these songs was a real standout, but I have to mention that
"Cooksferry Queen" in particular, which always makes me feel the top of my
head's about to fly off because the energy builds so intensely, seemed
uncannily fast. Even hearing the notes and seeing his fingers fly couldn't
quite convince me that one man could produce that layered density of
rhythm all by himself. And while "Shoot Out the Lights" always features
some killer jazz riffing, the dis-rhythmias on his version last night were
particularly striking.

Now, before I go any further, let me say outright that I know that even RT
is not perfect. Last night, he smiled in embarrassment as he spaced the
words to one line of "Walking the Long Miles Home." And right when I
thought that "52VBL" couldn't get any better than the way he was playing
it, so impossibly, he had a distinct moment of flubbing his timing, when
he lingered on the repetition of an improvised riff just long enought to
throw off his rhythms for a few seconds. But these small flaws in context
act as almost helpful reminders that RT, despite his stupefying prowess,
is after all human and that what he is doing is, even for RT, just as hard
as it looks.

A real highlight of the show for me was "Matty Groves," which RT delivered
beautifully even after disclaiming that he'd only sung it twice in the
last 35 or so years away from Fairport. His version sounded almost minor
keyed to me, because of a variation in the melody that RT later explained
to me came from his version's being based on a more traditional, Scottish
pentatonic rather than the more contemporary, blues pentatonic that
Fairport used. But it was RT's voice that really made this song so moving.
At this point, and with apologies to Martin Carthy, if there's a better
male vocalist for traditional ballads out there, I'd have a hard time
imagining him. RT's voice has become as nimble in its own way as his
fingers, with subtle trills and rolls that texture the music rather than
just sing it [my analogy would be that he's learned how to do with his
voice what he does so well with his left hand on the guitar neck, shaping
and texturing and defining every note]. On "Matty Groves" as on
"Persuasion" I found myself holding my breath at the sheer loveliness of
his singing.

Seeing as many RT shows as I do, I worry that the day will come when I
cease to be astonished by his playing and singing and songwriting, when I
stop really responding to the music because I begin to take his brilliance
for granted. Yet shows like last night's convince me that such a day will
never arrive. Just when I think I've heard him at his best, he seems
better still, always better. At times he leaves his audience in the dust,
so flat out astonished that they don't know how to respond. I sympathized
last night with the man who took advantage of a moment of silence after
the applause for "I Feel So Good" had died down to call out lamely to RT,
"That was good!" Because what can you say when the best just keeps getting
better? Superlatives are no longer apt, and comparatives fail to do any
sort of justice. Finally, all that can be said is RT is RT, and no one
else comes close.