Unity House Concerts Presents: Jean Rohe and Jay Mankita
(January 17, 2015 @ UU Society of Greater Springfield)
Cover Lay Down is proud to present Unity House Concerts, a new folk-and-more music series hosted by yours truly and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield.
Concerts are held in our own wooded sanctuary, and feature a combination of well-beloved musicians and new folk voices committed to the UU Coffeehouse tradition of channeling the spirit of community through song.
Our 2014-2015 season features artists from the Northeast, including Meg Hutchinson (October), The Gaslight Tinkers (March), and our Winter show, a co-bill with Jean Rohe and Jay Mankita, two artists who speak truth to power with beauty, grace, and poise.
My first encounter with the visionary songs of Jean Rohe this summer at a side stage at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival was so stunning, it left me in tears; I had to leave the tent, and so I missed the rest of her tiny in-the-round set.
Approaching Jean again during the festival and asking her to join us at our fledgeling UU Coffeehouse series this year was a no-brainer, especially after her full band wowed the crowd in their Emerging Artist Showcase set the following day on the mainstage. Waiting six months to hear her again has been the hardest part, but pulling the threads of the digital and recorded output has helped fill the void.
“A sure-footed young singer-songwriter” (NY Times) with a “unique musical voice that sounds like a love song for a world imperiled” (Albany Times Union), Jean Rohe captivates audiences with her intelligent well-crafted narrative songs and a unique, multilingual aesthetic fusion of traditional and modern folk, world beat, and jazz that speaks truth to power in equal measures of beauty and mysticism. The Brooklyn-based artist joins us fresh off her first European tour, accompanied by long-time collaborator and producer Liam Robinson on accordion, guitar, and voice, and we’re thrilled to have them both.
Even if you can’t join us, check out Jean’s carefully curated collection of albums and videos, especially 2014 release The End of the World Show, which one fellow musician at Falcon Ridge named their favorite album of the year. The album won three Independent Music Awards, and deservedly so: from its playful multi-stage packaging to the rich, layered, precisely arranged music it contains, the record is a gem, thick with found sound and poetry, international folkrock and world beat melodies, accompanied by crisp bowed strings and a full rhythm section. Similar praise goes to Lead Me Home, a sultry, subtle, potent and playful folk-meets-bossa-nova release from 2008 that includes several covers of popular Brazilian songs from the seventies among its set – and though it’s no cover, I can’t help but include the video of my favorite Jean Rohe original, the powerful National Anthem: Arise! Arise!, in today’s short set.
- Jean Rohe: Eta Baiao (orig. Jackson do Pandeiro)
- Jean Rohe: E Preciso Perdoar (orig. Joao Gilberto)
(from Lead Me Home, 2008)
- Jean Rohe: National Anthem: Arise! Arise!
- Jean Rohe & Rogerio Boccato: O Morro / A Love Supreme (orig. Antonio Jobim / John Coltrane)
Jean is joined by Massachusetts-based American singer-songwriter and guitarist Jay Mankita, an artist well-known and well-lauded on the global stage for his earth-friendly, Grammy-nominated collection of kids albums and songs, and the messages of social justice and environmental consciousness they promote through playful, often hilarious sing-along rhythm and rhyme. (Rohe herself sang Jay’s lyrics as an introduction to her infamous anti-McCain speech at her New School graduation ceremony in 2006, making this a pairing too tempting to pass up.)
But Jay isn’t all kid’s stuff, as evidenced by the universal appeal of such “heart and soul” songs as Bread Alone, and 2004 release They Lied, and its title song, which deftly skewers the political scene of its decade but remains just as apt today. Jay’s songs for adults are equally playful, in their way, as his work for kids – see the video below, of his cover of Bob Blue’s lyric for Scott Joplin’s Pineapple Rag, for evidence of the close connection Jay makes with his audiences – and they retain their messages of social justice, environment, and community. And the breath of sentiment yaws wide, from bitter to wistful, as Jay speaks truth to power in his own accessible, fun way.
In performance, Mankita is “a musical pied piper; quick, nimble, and wonderfully crazy” (Margie Rosenkrantz, Director, The Eighth Step); his children’s show and chapel appearance last year made him a natural choice for return as we dig into our new Saturday series. But Mankita is also as humble as he is gentle. Last week, he touted Jean on his facebook page, noting that Arise, Arise will be appearing in Rise Again, the upcoming next-generation sequel to the seminal sing-along folk bible Rise Up Singing, but failed to note that THREE of his songs will appear in the collection, including From A Dog’s Stance – a delightful, wry parody of the oft-covered Julie Gold song – and Living Planet, which has already been covered by the likes of Emma’s Revolution, Kim and Reggie Harris, and Magpie.
A cover of, and a cover from, then, with our highest recommendations for Jay Mankita’s work, whether you’re a parent or just a fan of the good stuff from the sociopolitical side of the folksinger canon.
- Magpie: Living Planet (orig. Jay Mankita)
(from Living Planet, 1990)
- Jay Mankita: Pineapple Rag (orig. Bob Blue / Scott Joplin)
Non-profit and ad-free since 2007, Cover Lay Down posts regular features on artists and songwriters as part of its continuing mission to ply the experience of coverage as a comfortable space for discovery. As always, we hope you’ll consider following the links above to hear more from and about the artists we feature, the better to support and sustain the arts, the artists, and the folkways.
And, if you live within driving distance of Springfield, Massachusetts – just a hop, skip, and jump away from Hartford, Northampton, and the Berkshires – we hope you’ll join us this Saturday, as Jay Mankita’s gentle wit and biting political satire, and Jean Rohe’s beautiful, visionary lyrics and masterful melodies, find full voice in the passionate, potent collection of songs they bring to our Unity House Concert stage. No reservations are necessary; Facebook confirmations greatly appreciated.