Saturday, March 9, 2013

Keith McCurdy and Vudu Sister

(This image is based on a photo by Jesse Golding. You can see the original here:  
            The waitress at Rhode Island Capitol Billiards Bar and Bistro in North Providence, Rhode Island is blond and pretty, but too skinny. She’s got the kind of body that makes guys my age (67) think about taking her out for a cheeseburger.  I’d like her to have a little caloric cushion to get her through the week. Guys Keith McCurdy’s age (27) probably look at her and think about getting her number, think about positions where their hipbones won’t knock. Yeah, that’s what forty years does to you. I am having beers on a Thursday afternoon with a guy who could conceivably be my grandson because I’m impressed with his music and want to write about him. He has completed the recording on a new album, his second, with his band, Vudu Sister. It is called Household Items. If all goes well it will come out on May 4th.
            We order beers and the pretty waitress asks, “You want any food?”
            Keith replies, “I’ll take some chicken fingers.”
            “The boneless ones?” He nods. “You want ‘em mild, hot, or suicidal?”
            Keith says, “Suicidal.” It is consistent with what I know about Keith so far that he would go for the extreme. He is one of those people who seem to be playing for higher stakes than most of us. After all, one of his best songs is a balls to the wall number about suicide-as-revenge-on-a-girl-who-did-him-wrong.
 The Quiet Man
It’s a lonely place when no one is home
There’s a rickety chair and a good strong rope
She heard the clamour of the wood to the floor
He left nothing to mop; now her back’s so sore
From carrying that body to the bottom floor
No she never should have left him all alone
At least he can’t try it again

            Despite the theme of this song and several others, Keith does not seem morose or depressed. In fact, he is so energetic and full of ideas that it is hard to imagine him lying still for five minutes, let alone for eternity. His conversation and lyrics cover a lot of dark and violent territory, but he seems enlivened and passionate about his themes.
            He says, “I don’t have a very unique story. Me and my family have had a lot of struggles. I haven’t had a privileged upbringing. Sometimes when that happens, you embrace it. Death and despair are real to me. Why not write about it? I don’t relate to “jovial” music, for lack of a better word.” 

            And then there is the voice. Keith has a big voice. It is loud and clear and true. It would be pushing the point to call it soaring, but he belts out his songs in a way that rivets you to the vocals. In another reincarnation he could have sung Broadway show tunes; “…and the waving wheat can sure small sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain…,” “…Hold my hand and we're halfway there. Hold my hand and I'll take you there. Somehow, Some day, Somewhere!” etc.

            The thought occurs to me that because of my age and the antiquity of my musical references, I’m going to miss something essential about what Keith and Vudu Sister are up to. Keith mentions influences I don’t know; Donita Sparkes and Mia Zapata. I dutifully listen to them on YouTube.  I start asking young people how they would characterize his music. The phrases “acoustic grunge” and “death folk” come up. These have little specific meaning to me. Then I pose the question to a couple in their teens, “So, what is your take on Keith McCurdy’s music?”  I ask. “He’s great!” they reply. “He’s like the love child of Janice Joplin and Neil Young!” Wait a minute. If Janice Joplin had lived she’d be seventy and Neil Young is only six months younger than me. I can relate to that. Having gotten an answer I could live with, I drop my inquiry.

            Back at Rhode Island Capitol Billiards Bar and Bistro in North Providence, Rhode Island, the pretty waitress returns to our table. Keith is definitely eyeing her. I ask for an extra plate so I can sample the suicidal chicken fingers. Hell, yeah! They’re hot enough to hurt, so why do I lick my fingers as Keith watches the waitress walk away? That’s what forty years does to you.

            Keith is proud of his sophomore album. He worked hard on the recording and he has high hopes that it will move his career forward at least to the degree that it makes sense for him to keep doing what he’s doing.
            He says, “I use to think it could happen all at once. Lets be Pearl Jam! Lets be Alice in Chains! Now I’m thinking about small steps. Maybe I’ll get to play the Newport Folk Festival, release a few more albums, tour incessantly.” Keith is embedded in the Rhode Island music scene and knows and works with people who have achieved this kind of success; Low Anthem, Brown Bird, Deer Tick, Joe Fletcher. He recorded Household Items at the newly renovated and revitalized Columbus Theater and he has a release party scheduled there on May 4, 2013. Mark that date down. It is an important one.

            You can make a donation to support the release of Household Items here:

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