David Olney – Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)
“Bound For Glory”, North America’s longest-running live folk radio concert, has hosted hundreds of performers in its 32-year history. It’s unlikely, however, that many of them have matched the intensity of David Olney, the Nashville-based songwriter who was making his debut on the show this night.
Olney might not be known to the mainstream folk audience, but he has long been revered by his peers, including Townes Van Zandt, who called him “one of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard.” Olney has released seven albums for Rounder, and his songs have been covered by Emmylou Harris (“Deeper Well”, “Jerusalem Tomorrow”) and Linda Ronstadt (“Women Across The River”).
Kicking off the series’ summer season on a hot, sticky night, Olney performed several songs from his new Philo Records release, Through A Glass Darkly. The album is chock-full of his trademark narratives, including the poignant “1917”, told from the viewpoint of a French prostitute encountering a British soldier during World War I.
One of the shows highlights was “Millionaire”, on which Olney’s rough-hewn voice lent gravity to the tale of an old-time robber baron. Other standouts included the raucous “Race Track Blues,” the country romp “Lilly Of The Valley”, and the quietly powerful pop ballad “Nothing Matters But You”. Olney also told a funny story about how he once performed “If My Eyes Were Blind”, then remembering too late that he was opening a Doc Watson show.
Olney’s shirt was soaked through with sweat by the end of the first set, but he forged on through two more sets, ending the night with his medley of “Lee’s Highway” and “Bamaloo”.
Before the show, Olney said he focuses on storytelling instead of personally revealing songs because “there just are not that many truly interesting people on the planet, and none of them are in the music business. I’ve always enjoyed storytelling, but it’s become almost a dying art.” As long as Olney is around, however, there are still lots of stories waiting to be told.