Bill Janovitz – Tin Angel (Philadelphia, PA)
There are times when great wisdom can be extracted from cliches. For instance, I will now never underestimate the musical maxim that argues “you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with.” Or maybe the adage “practice makes perfect” is more appropriate. Regardless, this particular evening was a bit on the messy side.
Based on all the recorded evidence available, I would have pegged Bill Janovitz as a guy who places a high premium on musicianship and band chemistry. Buffalo Tom has evolved over its eight-year history into one helluva tight unit, and Janovitz’s tapping of Giant Sand’s rhythm section (bassist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino) gave his Lonesome Billy release a solid foundation on which to build.
So when the time came to hit the road in support of his solo release, it made sense that Janovitz would want to find players who were comfortable with each other. And he did: Lincolnville, a band from Portland, Maine, served double-duty on these dates, opening each show with a set of original material before returning to back up Janovitz. Despite the good intentions, however, it never really clicked.
It truly was a lonesome Billy who opened the set — just Janovitz and his guitar, busking through a handful of Buffalo Tom faves (“Porchlight”, “Summer”, “Mineral”), a solo tune (“Shoulder”) and a new song intended for the next B.T. album (“Scottish Windows”). Re-enter Lincolnville, who remained throughout the rest of the set as Janovitz continued to mix old and new with the occasional cover (a Merle Haggard tune; the standard “My Funny Valentine”).
Halfway through the evening, Janovitz announced that “this is only the fourth time we’ve played together.” It showed, and I don’t understand how an artist could invest the passion required to create a pretty strong piece of work in Lonesome Billy, and then go out and not present the material in the strongest of lights.
So many things were missing from this show. Surprisingly, one was Janovitz’s guitar playing: The prismatic shadings and subtle nuances that are abundant on record were not discernible live. As a result, the sheer dynamic power in, say, “Talking To The Queen” was simply lost. The lack of pedal steel stripped away some of the personality of “Think Of All” and “Strangers”. In fact, devoid of the steel break and Howe Gelb’s rollicking piano line, the latter smacked more of twangy parody than country reverence.