By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
So they book the CMAs at MSG and take a page or two out of the official CMJ handbook, putting a country act into every club with anything resembling a stage. But those hicks were just looking for an excuse to hit the big town. What might sadly go unnoticed was the varied stream of excellent female singer-songwriters coming into town just as the cowboy hats were leaving. In my case, watching Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely tear down the house at Makor November 5 only whetted the palate for more.
The real nonstop action kicked off with Neko Case once again proving she belongs both at CMJ and on CMT. Promoting an upcoming studio album and recent live one, she left me wishing for a bit more from the older catalog, though she did include "Hex," "Favorite," and "If You Knew." The set felt nicely laid-back, if sometimes thrown together.
Liz Tormes, a Lower East Side newcomer from Nashville, lit up the Knit the next night, setting refreshingly unconfessional lyrics like "I don't want to live forever, but I never want to die" to an unmatched delivery that can make "dear" sound like a curse.
The Society for Ethical Culture, a former church with pews, was a great fit for Dar Williams. She opened with Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," and from there her full band's flourishes and nuances highlighted her playful songwriting, so the silliness of tunes like "The Babysitter's Here" never got tiring. Who she kept reminding me of, oddly, was Jonathan Richman.
Which brings us, love her or hate her, to Aimee Mann, who sometimes seemed to wonder whether many were there just 'cause the show was free, but had fun regardless, asking the crowd to make paper airplanes out of requests, rather than shout them all at once. No "Voices Carry"; plenty of The Forgotten Arm.
Single words to sum them up: Toshi, soul; Neko, sassy; Liz, sultry; Dar, social; Aimee, sure.