Chuck Brodsky, Twickenham Folk Club, London. June 19th 2011
American folk-singer Chuck Brodsky, so very well received at last year’s Shrewsbury Folk Festival, opened the first night of his first full UK tour at Twickenham Folk Club, an ideal setting for a man whose literate style just demands the listener’s ear.
Brodsky has built up a reputation for writing about ordinary people who do extraordinary things. He gives credence to the belief that once you start to peel away at the layers, there is no such thing as ‘ordinary’ in the human condition.
The first set of eight songs was slanted towards his humorous, satirical tunes and included five from his just released album SUBTOTAL ECLIPSE. He commenced by pairing Out of Time and Place with The World As You Once Knew It both of which allude to being out of step with the modern world. Amusement and nods of acknowledgement were evident as the audience perhaps recognised traits within themselves that were being reflected in Brodsky’s words.
Engaging the audience in laughter, both through his lyrics and the stories he told between songs, he created a relaxed and informal setting for a cleverly paced performance. One might say it was an evening of two halves – the first was light, jokey and full of humour, the second serious and at times, emotionally charged.
His gentle delivery is what gives his songs such impact – the soothing voice delivering a barbed comment make his lyrics all the more powerful and affecting. To move an audience almost seamlessly from laughter to tears is a real skill and tonight there was no doubt that Brodsky is a master at doing just that.
The back-to-back coupling of Lili’s Braids with Gerta, songs whose settings are firmly rooted in the horrors of the Holocaust, were genuinely heart wrenching. There were quite a few in the audience, me included, who were taken aback by the emotional intensity wrought not just by the stories of Lili Hirsch and Eva Modval Haimovitz but the coincidence of finding that after taking a few days break from recording the new CD due to a cold, Brodsky resumed and recorded these two songs on what turned out to be Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Writing about Brodsky means that one can’t omit reference to his trademark baseball songs and again he showed his contrasting approaches to these with the humour of The Bellyache Heard ‘Round the World and the sorrow of Roberto. The former a light-hearted tale about Babe Ruth’s state of health and the latter, a sombre memorial to Roberto Clemente one of the first Latin-American players who lost his life during a humanitarian flight delivering aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.
Many of his songs contain specific American references, not surprisingly you might add, but they nevertheless travel well. That’s testament to his skill as a wordsmith; he paints pictures and draws you in to a world full of unlikely characters that by dint of a little exploration become flesh and bone. Brodsky has in the past spent time finding some of those protagonists again and given them a copy of the CD containing their story – what a wonderful way to show appreciation to those (no longer) unsung heroes. Jela Webb