Folk music is foundation of duo’s creative efforts

Since vocalist Capathia Jenkins and songwriter Louis Rosen first began collaborating together in 200
Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen play The Eighth Step GE Theater at Proctors on Friday night.
Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen play The Eighth Step GE Theater at Proctors on Friday night.

Capathia Jenkins wants to be Art Garfunkel.

A January Huffington Post review of Broadway actress and vocalist Jenkins and songwriter Louis Rosen’s third album together, “The Ache of Possibility,” compared the duo, much to their excitement, to Simon and Garfunkel. And while the differences between the two groups are obvious, the similarities in the pairings — with Rosen as a Paul Simon, songwriting figure and Jenkins as the vocal interpreter — are also clearly there, as the duo pointed out recently.

“I have the hair,” Jenkins said.

“He had a Jew-fro,” Rosen replied.

“Yes, and I have the afro.”

The legendary folk-rock pairing has had a bigger influence on Jenkins and Rosen than just hairstyles, however. Since the two first began collaborating together in 2005 with Rosen’s extended suite “12 Songs on Poems by Maya Angelou,” over the course of three albums they have developed a sound that mixes jazz, pop, folk and blues together.

Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: The Eighth Step, GE Theatre at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

How Much: $26

More Info: 346-6204,,

The mix may not be the most apparent fit for The Eighth Step, which will host the duo along with bassist Dave Phillips for an intimate show in Proctors’ GE Theatre in support of “The Ache of Possibility” on Friday night. Not only will this be their first appearance with Eighth Step, this will be their first in Schenectady, to the best of their knowledge.

“The producer of The Eighth Step [Margaret Rosenkranz] is bringing us up because she saw us at Joe’s Pub [in New York City] a couple months ago, and she saw that we really enjoy being onstage together,” Rosen said. “Somebody told us after our last show, that the show creates a lovely communal experience that allows the audience to feel kind of relaxed, like they’re with us on a ride, and that made me very happy, because that’s what I think we’re trying to do.”

First love

Folk is a strong foundation for what Jenkins and Rosen do together in their collaboration. Rosen, a pianist, guitarist, composer and author, cites folk music as his first love.

“Everything that we do in some ways has a folk influence and foundation,” he said. “As a musician, that’s really where I began in my teens, and I have a great affinity for it. Our musical style spans beyond folk, but it definitely encompasses it, and some of it is very straightforward folk-based. . . . [Our music] uses what folk music has to offer — the idea that you can address topical concerns in a song, even address it with some wit, but the music itself keeps it firmly grounded in that American language that lets us focus on words.”

“The Ache of Possibility” draws strongly from folk traditions of protest music. The material was written and recorded during the last half of 2008, in the midst of the presidential election and the beginnings of the economic recession, and draws from the spirit of change that was much lauded in President Barack Obama’s campaign.

“The political climate was so charged,” Rosen said. “By September the economic crisis had hit with both barrels, and the title song was written a couple of weeks before the presidential election. Capathia and I certainly talked a lot about politics, economics and such, and I think it’s truly how we felt for that moment, and frankly how I still feel — that perhaps Obama could be elected, and with him someone who is truly committed more to the interests of a broader populace.”

Jenkins was immediately drawn to the song upon first hearing it, and asked to sing it for the next album.

“Sometimes he’ll play a song, and it’s clearly a song for him, and I didn’t know with this one — it was just him and a guitar; he’s sitting there playing it and singing it, and I was like, ‘Is that one for me?’ ” Jenkins said.

“I wanted to do it so much. It just had everything we’d talked about, lots of conversations about politics and economics and realizing that it was really an extraordinary time to be alive, if you’re awake and aware in life, and it’s still and extraordinary time to be alive.”

Since the duo’s earliest collaborations, Rosen has composed all of their material. Initially, with extended pieces such as “12 Songs on Poems by Maya Angelou,” the partnership mostly involved Jenkins learning the music and lyrics that Rosen brought in. As the two have progressed, the effort has become much more collaborative, with Rosen encouraging Jenkins to bring her own melodic ideas to the table.

“I’ll bring a song in, and I welcome her ideas for things like other kinds of vocals here,” Rosen said. “More and more I encourage her to free herself from the literalness of the melodies I wrote, because it’s hers.”

“Early on I would literally work with the music in front of me,” Jenkins said. “On this last record I was just working with the lyrics. I am freeing myself. Looking at music on a page, you’re working from another side of your brain. When you’re just telling a story off the page, it frees you in a way to do whatever in the moment, and it helped us to fatten and broaden our sound.”

Affinity for lyrics

The duo have always had a strong affinity for the lyrics of their songs, and have often set music to poetry, including the Angelou piece. “One Ounce of Truth,” their 2008 sophomore outing, solely featured works written by poet Nikki Giovanni set to music (four tracks on “The Ache of Possibility” also feature lyrics by Giovanni). But whether the lyrics are a poem or written by Rosen, the approach to the material is the same.

“I’ve devoted the past five years almost exclusively to writing for us,” Rosen said. “For every time we’ve recorded — for our second and third records — I would always tell CJ as I’m writing, what I’m into. If I’m setting someone else’s works to music, like Nikki Giovanni’s, even before I wrote anything, I sent CJ lots of poems I was considering to make sure we’d be on the same wavelength.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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