Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Geoff Bartley -- Blackbirds in the Pie

Blackbirds in the Pie
Geoff Bartley

Geoff Bartley has been a mainstay of the Boston folk and blues scene for about four decades and I’ve enjoyed his singing, playing and songwriting since the first time I encountered him – circa 1973 – at a benefit concert there.

Blackbirds in the Pie includes a number of examples of Geoff’s always-excellent acoustic blues work including fine versions of such classics as Reverend Gary Davis’ “Candy Man,” featuring some delicious-sounding fingerpicking; the Bessie Smith classic “Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair,” featuring some nifty clarinet playing by Billy Novick, one of my all-time favourite horn players; and “Backwater Blues” that’s filtered through both Ma Rainey and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

From the folk canon, Geoff does beautiful jobs on “Central Square,” a previously unrecorded Tom Paxton song, that nostaligically recalls a found and lost love, and on Malvina Reynolds’ classic, “God Bless the Grass.”

Geoff’s also a fine songwriter and shines on such tunes as “Bozos on the Road No. 2,” a jazzy and very funny remake of an earlier tune that he sets from the P.O.V. of a gas-guzzling, cell phone-talking driver of a big SUV; “The Song of Imaginary Gifts,” a list of imaginary gifts for a special person that really boil down to love, the best gift of all; “Redemption,” a slow, beautiful, slide guitar instrumental played on a resonator guitar; and “Lemonade Redux,” a ragtime guitar instrumental that I think would make my late friend, Dave Van Ronk, smile.

From Geoff’s first-rate – mostly solo – interpretations of folk and blues standards, to his own fine songs and instrumentals, Blackbirds in the Pie is an engaging set by an always worthy artist.

--Mike Regenstreif

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