Richard Shindell

Concert Reviews

New York Times (May 2, 2000)

Richard Shindell: A Shaker-Style Voice, With Songs to Match

Occasionally an artist has a night that makes even skeptics think,
"O.K., maybe he is the best." Richard Shindell achieved this on
Thursday at the Bottom Line. The essentials all fell into place --
his set list highlighted only strengths, his voice never wavered and
his band flawlessly accentuated his songs. The inevitable folkie
moment, the trite joke or earnest comment that demands a cringe, never
arrived.

What does it mean to say a singer-songwriter is the best? It's
pointless, given folk's idiosyncrasies. High standards can be a
handicap; a little shagginess combats dull gentility. Mr. Shindell is
so literary that his ballads would go straight into The New Yorker if
they were prose. Such skill can often be deadening.

But Mr. Shindell demonstrates an invaluable gift as a songwriter:
a genuine absence of ego. His most idyllic lyrics do not feel
forced because he tempers their poeticism with a conversational
tone. Characters like an immigration officer grilling a suspect
or a nun changing a tire can express profundities because they
have a plain side, too. The combination gains depth through his
artfully straightforward baritone, the vocal equivalent of Shaker
furniture. His melodies are just as beautifully unadorned.

Mr. Shindell's humility allows for ambition. Like two other "best"
singer-songwriters, Bruce Springsteen and Lucinda Williams, he dwells
on big, often difficult moments in the lives of ordinary people. By
staying with them even as he flies into metaphor, he maintains
equanimity.

His extra vibrancy on Thursday came from a band that he should try to
keep. It might be impossible because its anchor is Larry Campbell, a
guitarist in Bob Dylan's constantly touring troupe. Mr. Campbell's
contributions on guitar, bouzouki and mandolin were as modestly
stunning as Mr. Shindell's songs.

The bassist, Lincoln Schliefer, and the drummer, Dennis McDermott,
provided the rich, dark hues that lent nuance to the landscape. This
ensemble plays on Mr. Shindell's new album, "Somewhere Near Paterson"
(Signature Records), which is reason enough to buy it on sight. If he
could grab a slot on a television show like "Sessions at West 54th
Street" with this ensemble, he might become a better-known "best."

The New York Times

updated: 2 years ago