Kevin McKrell launches his Parting Glass (40 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs) residency Sunday as a triumph of hope over hesitancy.
The hyperactive singer-songwriter-bandleader once played, as he said on Facebook: “Wednesday, the Rolls (Touring Co.); Thursday, the Grinch; Friday, happy hour Skinflints; Friday night, the Elbow (Room); Saturday, The Parting Glass; Sunday morning, brunch, the Inn at Saratoga; Monday, Bogies; repeat.”
He loved, “writing songs during the day, singing them at night,” but found that “setting up gear every night and then taking it down again, like the freakin’ circus, leaves me cold.” Nonetheless, he now believes, “the creative side of a steady is not to be taken lightly: writing new bits, both song and humor, [and] going into a gig with the adrenaline surging from trying out new material is intoxicating.” So he’s doing it again. McKrell plays solo this Sunday and every April Sunday at The Parting Glass, in the cozy front bar where he’s been known to pull a pint during bartender shifts. 7 p.m. Free. 518-583-1916 www.partingglasspub.com
McKrell still stars in The McKrells; they sold out Caffe Lena last week and play The Parting Glass April 27. He’s also just formed Tin Can Alley, a new Weavers-inspired folk-band with daughter Katie McKrell, Greg Haymes, Brian Melick and Michael Eck. They debut June 9 at Caffe Lena.
Melick is also a member of The McKrells while Haymes and Eck are in the Ramblin Jug Stompers, whose residencies for Tess Collins at the Lark Tavern and McGeary’s Eck recalls fondly. The band called those gigs their “laboratory” for developing new tunes and jokes, a chance to “Stomperize everything!”
“I couldn’t be more excited about being in a new band with Kevin McKrell,” said Eck, who saw McKrell often in the Fabulous Newports and the original McKrells. “He just gets better,” said Eck, roots-music scholar and multi-instrumentalist in eight bands. “He knows every song worth singing, and he wrote half of them.”
Hamell on Trial last night launched his fifth or sixth Low Beat residency (impresario Howe Glassman has lost count). Eck became a fan during Hamell’s ’80s and ’90s residencies at Mother Earth’s Café. “Those nights were like holding on to a rocket as new material was developed and refined … [at the] crossroads of comedy and social satire,” Eck said. In previous Low Beat Hamell residencies, Eck saw “the marvel of a seasoned entertainer zeroing in on his art and his audience.” He said, “The rants, the riffs, the anger, the humor, the paintings — they all come together as a remarkable whole. You laugh, yes, but you come away wiser and deeper, almost without realizing it.” Hamell’s brilliant 1992 cassette album “Letter to Mike” (his second of 14, the guy’s so prolific/driven he once wrote and recorded a new song every day for a year!) is a sparkling pal-to-pal monologue in tunes and talk. Join the conversation: Hamell on Trial plays the Low Beat April 11, 18, 25. 7 p.m. $10. 518-432-6572 www.thelowbeat.com
Let’s stay with Eck, since he’s seen Amy Helm more recently than I have.
Amy Helm begins her residency at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen (79 N. Pearl St., Albany) Sunday, simultaneously with McKrell’s at The Parting Glass. Eck said, in “many lucky visits to Levon Helm’s barn, his daughter Amy blossomed from simply a fantastic singer to a real soul force, from the yang of Ollabelle (her former NYC Gospel-blues band) to a woman of heart and mind.” Eck said, “That she can make William Bell’s ‘Everybody Loves a Winner’ her own is just a token of the talent that’s there.” Helm sings Sunday, then April 15 and 22, at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen. 8 p.m. $16 advance, $20 door. 518-426-8559 www.thehollowalbany.com
Drummer Joe Barna’s Sketches of Influence jazz band also benefited from repeated recent gigs here. Sunday in Professor Java’s cozy back room (“jammed” there means 40 fans; jammed it was), the band played the last of three area shows in three nights. New York guest tenor saxman Joel Frahm played all three; regular Sketches alto player Adam Siegel and guest Kevin Barcomb (tenor) spiced things up Sunday.
After two nights together, they were tight as Barna’s snare head. Flying and smiling, they urged each other out to the edges as bassist Otto Gardner held everyone right in the pocket and Mark Kleinhaut picked, strummed or spanked his thin-body guitar.
A melody machine deluxe, with endless ideas and a beefy tone, Frahm cooked a soulful stew, standard-tune bits bubbling up on top. The first set, of Barna’s auto-bio tunes to family and friends, started hot and heavy, simmering into the pensive ballad “A Whisper in the Darkness.” This sparse, sweet tune highlighted a fast-moving romp showcasing Barna’s compositional invention, especially the long-line melody of “Scott Free,” a tribute to Scott Hall. Frahm landed from his stupendous solo on the set-closing “Let’s Fall in Love” blinking in “where-am-I?” surprise, startled to find his feet back on the ground.
They went all bluesy after the break; the swinging bop of “The Grind” set the table and “Billie’s Bounce” gave great liftoff.
Barna may be the most relentless groove drummer around, and his drive suited the rocking blues tunes of the band’s closing run right down to the ground.
Bluegrass giant Ralph Stanley recently said in a WAMC interview that the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack helped bring this deep, homemade music to millions. On Sunday, WAMC’s The Linda (339 Central Ave., Albany) shows the film at 2, 4:30 and 7 p.m.; film scholar Cole Mead speaks at the 7 p.m. showing. 518-465-5322 www.thelinda.org
Also, live at the Linda on Friday, guitarist and singer John Primer plays rocking Chicago blues. Bandleader with Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Magic Slim, Primer has recorded and toured on his own since 1995. Jamaican bluesman Jimy Graham opens. 8 p.m. $22
A newfound binge-worthy (i.e., too short!) BBC mystery series “Case Histories” features extraordinary music by superb singer-songwriters Eliza Gilkyson, Mary Gauthier (playing the Linda April 25), Iris DeMent, Nanci Griffith, Sarah McLachlan, Lucinda Williams, Kris Delmhorst, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, Gillian Welch, even (HEY!) Public Enemy. Characters comment on tunes that edge into the scene via radios. Very satisfying.
Copping John Sebastian’s line, Joan Shelley sings and plays “clean as country waters.” The Kentucky singer-songwriter plays Sunday at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs). Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy produced last year’s debut album; it landed in NPR’s “All Songs Considered” top albums list. 7 p.m. $20 advance, $22 door, $11 students and children. 518-583-0022 www.caffelena.org
Also at Caffe Lena, area jazz/world-music ensemble Heard introduces its new album “Flyway” Saturday. Heard is leader/composer/keyboardist Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius, reeds player Jonathan Greene, bassist Bobby Kendall, ubiquitous and inimitable percussionist Brian Melick, and Zorkie Nelson playing flute and percussion and singing. Graced with guests, the album has a joyful, exotic but engaging swing. 8 p.m. $20 advance, $22 door, $11 students and children
Singer-songwriter Emma Larson plays tonight, Skidmore Night, at the Caffe. 7 p.m. $10, $5 students and children
And veteran troubadour Don White returns to the Caffe on Friday. 8 p.m. $18 advance, $20 door, $10 students and children
FOUCAULT AT COCK ’N BULL
Massachussetts singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault visits the Cock ’n Bull (5342 Parkis Mills Raod, Galway) tonight. His well-made tunes and engaging delivery have drawn top players into his band and onto his 11 albums; “Shoot the Moon Right Between the Eyes” is a tribute to John Prine, who plays Levon Helm’s Woodstock barn next Wednesday, but I digress.
Foucault mixes folk, rock, country and the blues as well as anyone, and he’s married to fellow troubadour Kris Delmhorst who sings on the “Case Histories” soundtrack. Tonight at the Cock ’N Bull, dinner seatings 5 to 6:45 p.m. precede the 8 p.m. show. $60 three-course dinner and show. 518-882-6962 www.thecockandbull.com