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June 13, 1978 - Image 6

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1978-06-13

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Page 6-Tuesday, June 13, 1978-The Michigan Daily
The Ark offers mixed blessings

The Ark, as is the pattern for much
of the summer, offered on consecutive
nights a pair of local musicians. Qn
Friday night Jay Stielstra sang and
played guitar, and on Saturday night
Leo Kretzner did likewise.
How does one critique a high school
history teacher, or the supervisor of a
mental health facility (as these men
are, respectively)? Should one? It all
depends, of course, on whether the
show was a case of the performer of-
fering something he feels is worth
giving, or if it was in fact just some Ann
cirt s
Arbor folks having fun, playing it loose
and easy for some friends at the Ark.
I THINK the problem with talking
about these two shows is that neither of
the performers had a solid hold on what
they wished to accomplish. Sometimes
there was real drive in their perfor-
mances, and sometimes there was just
pickin' and grinnin'. The results, thus,
were often frustrating, and sometimes
highly exciting.
A key to the drawbacks of both shows
was a lack of focus. Stielstra displayed
a fine first half, showing some great
songs and a good sideman on
dobro-and heapromptly almost threw
it all away with a group of neo-rednecks
who played wretchedly loose, cry-in-
yer-beer bar tunes. Kretzner, on the
other hand, attempted such an eclectic
variety of songs that he diversified
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himself into oblivion, and his distance
from so many of his songs didn't help,
either. It is the fact that he played his
guitar so well, time and again, as well
as those few occasions when he really
sank his teeth into a song, that in-
dicated there's a whole lot more there.
FROM CLOSE UP, Jay Stielstra
seems to have one of those mugs you
see on the cover of "Big John" beans:
He has a thick moustache, rough nose,
and sunken, craggy eyes that could
have been carved out by the guy that
did Mount Rushmore.
But when he played and sang at his
best-during the first half of his
show-he was pure Ernest Hem-
mingway, sounding like a Nick Adams
who never ran away from the Michigan
Never snarling or wailing, but relying
on a well-shaped voice with a fine
vibrato to convey feeling, Stielstra sang
many tunes about the pleasures of
fishing, the earth and tipping a few in
some small bar. His songs of indulgen-
ces won people with their honesty, and
with a feeling that what he was singing
about was truly coming from him
(although he said only one of his songs

was a true story).
THIS INTEGRITY was very evident
in a song he did call "Middle Aged
Blues." Straightforwardly, he sang
Irarely lie,
and I rarely cry
forty more years
and I'm gonna die
He was accompanied by a musician on
dobro in the first half, who was very
adept at fleshing out Stielstra's
somewhat thin melodies.
But the second half was lamentable.
Joined by a piano player and a
musician on electric bass, the four
ignored the strength and integrity of
Stielstra's first half by playing sloppy,
honkeytonk songs that uncomfortably
taxed Stielstra's voice. Perhaps this
was the format Stielstra uses when he
plays in Ann Arbor bars-perhaps he
just wanted to chuck all the "heavy"
stuff, and just get down and play. But
whatever the reason, I wish I had left
before the second half got going.
showed the audience a smattering of
styles: he leaned towards old country
blues songs, but he did many modern
songs by "folk" biggies like James
Taylor, Dylan and John Prine. He did
some country tunes, and some novelty
numbers ... in short, you never really
knew where he was coming from. He
sings with none of the "aint-all-of-this-
heritage-music-stuff-a-gas" falseness
so aggravating in David. Bromberg.
Anyone who goes from "Fire and Rain"
to a delta blues tune had better be un-
flinching and believe in what he is

But Kretzner spent much time just
messing around, with nothing much to
say in between songs: he would often
tune for long minutes song after song,
and during the second half, he spent
almost as much time talking to his band
(who backed him up with much the
same results that Stielstra accrued the
night before) as he did to the audience.
And they did an absolutely hideous ren-
dition of the Temptations "My Girl,"
that was grossly unfunny.
ALL OF THIS might lead you to
believe that Saturday's show was
trying to be no more than just a good
time. But this guy can play guitar! He's
very fast, very fluid, and he shows a
great imagination for improvising
when he puts his mind to it.
Also, he shows an affinity for the
blues. Most of the time, he seemed
closest to the most contemporary songs
he performed, like "Shakeytown"
(from Running on Empty), or some
Hank Williams tunes. But when he let
loose on some blues songs, with that
dexterous guitar picking, it was very
Of course it's great to have a fun
time, and if one can't do that at the Ark
then it's most likely not just the per-
former's fault. But there are some
people who you just wish would aim a
bit higher than a good time. Even if
they fail, tit's bound to be more in-
teresting. And besides, a folk artist can
get away with being just that-an artist
-and still have a tremendous amount
of fun.
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