At 60 people, it wasn’t exactly standing room only (but then it was a Tuesday night). The Black Sheep Inn is a good half-hour drive from Ottawa into the Gatineau Hills. It was do or die in the Ottawa Senators’ run for hockey glory (they died). And snug as we were, Jimmy LaFave’s choice of Dylan’s “Buckets Of Rain” as his leadoff song reminded us that, outside, it was cold and wet.
LaFave couldn’t have been less worried. With Danny Click on lead guitar, Will Landin on bass and Wally Doggett on drums, the Austin singer-songwriter fired up two hours of ballads, rock and soulful blues. Keeping between-song banter to a minimum, LaFave drew on a selection of new and old, covers and originals. When he did chat, it was in the same manner that he performs, time the least of his concerns.
“This is just the kind of place Townes would be real comfortable in,” he mused. “When I saw these beautiful green hills up here, I thought of this Townes Van Zandt song.” But then that reminded him of pulling into a truck stop on the drive from his previous night’s show in Montreal, and how they had wound up talking about life on the road. A cover of Townes’ “Snowin’ On Raton” was the eventual punch line.
That jaw about road life was for the benefit of Serena Ryder. She’s the girl LaFave heard singing in a hallway at last year’s Folk Alliance convention in Jacksonville, Florida, and has taken under his wing. Barely out of high school and accompanying LaFave on his Canadian tour, the Toronto-born Ryder, who opened the show, struck one audience member as a combination of Patsy Cline and Janis Joplin. Add a little Tracy Chapman and Etta James, and you’ve got the picture. Pipes. Presence. Potential.
Another youngster inspired a bit more stage talk. Born during his dad’s current tour, Jackson Delaney is Jimmy’s first child. “I’m still waiting for the FedExed pictures of him,” said LaFave, seemingly bemused at becoming a father at 46. “I’ll send this song out to my kid,” he added, and “Never Is A Moment”, from last year’s Texoma album, had suddenly been written for a child, not a woman: “From your head down to your toes/You are beautiful divine/If you hear music in the wind/My melody I hope you’ll find.”
And so it went. “Only One Angel”. “The Weight”. Blistering rock ‘n’ roll with Jimmy barely breaking a sweat. It was 1:20 Wednesday morning by the time he wrapped up “Mercury Blues” and the clutch of dancers packed it in. Another working day for most us, we headed back to the city, the rain over and stars glittering.