Rob Lutes’ Mastery Charms Meaford Hall Audience

Review by Bill Monahan of Rob Lutes at Meaford Hall, April 1, 2017

Rob Lutes’ solo acoustic concert in The Gallery at Meaford Hall on Saturday night captivated the small attentive crowd.  There was total silence when he performed, except when someone whispered to the person beside them what a great lyric that was (which was fairly often), and when he conversed with the audience between songs people immediately responded with their own comments.  Most of the songs were met with whistles and loud applause that made the audience seem bigger than it was.  Rob Lutes has played to much bigger audiences around the world and those in attendance on Saturday night seemed especially privileged to have a talent of this calibre playing just for us.

For me it evoked the favourite days of my youth when coffee houses were everywhere and there were a lot of people playing this style of what we then called (and I guess still do) folk music.  In reality, the music of Rob Lutes and of many of those folk singers in the 60’s coffee houses is solidly based in the early acoustic jazz and blues of the great black musicians of the thirties.  It wasn’t really folk music, it was great pop music from a bygone era and another culture just being discovered by the white baby boomers for the first time.  Rob Lutes has that guitar style, the high steppin’ Cakewalk ragtime style that was once heard only in the all-black entertainment spots.  And his voice is in that area as well, with a bit of raw whiskey-soaked blues flavouring to it.  That was all so new and exciting to us kids back in the pre-Beatles early sixties.  While most performers then reproduced the old sounds as authentically as they could, a few would try their own compositions framed within that sound.  But the talents of our big heroes back then, Dave Van Ronk, the Jim Kewskin Jug Band, Tom Paxton, and others would have been blown clear out of the water if Rob Lutes had been on the scene.

If you listened to the cadence, the rhythm and the sound of Rob Lutes you might think it was just like the music we listened to back then.  But Rob Lutes’ songs are on a whole other level.

He is a master of what Flaubert called “le mot juste”, placing exactly the right word in the exactly the right place.  His songs have a lot of words and a lot of rhythmic lyrical phrases tightly wrapped up in internal rhymes.  They go by so fast that you find yourself missing a line because you are still cogitating on the last line.  Because they are more than very clever word smithing; they are ideas for living by.

When I read a book by a very good writer I sometimes pause to read a line or section over again because it is so well expressed.  I found myself wishing I could do that with his songs.  I once had a daytimer that had an aphorism at the top of each page to inspire your day.  It occurred to me that you could probably do that with lyrics from Rob Lutes’ songs.

“When our lives are uninspired we’ll book the next best thing for hire”

“If you run long enough you’re going to run into yourself”

“Forgiveness will soothe you, it will almost make you feel brand new”

I’m sure there were 362 more phrases like that in the two sets of songs we heard.

Some of his songs were inspired by aphorisms that he picked up from others, which he didn’t hesitate to admit.  When he heard, from a podcast, the phrase, “Forgiveness means giving up hope of a better past” he was inspired to expand that idea into a song full of insights.  The old Robert Johnson song “The Red Hot” contains the lines “I know a girl that’s long and tall, she sleeps in the kitchen with her feet in the hall”.  Those lines have been since appropriated by jug bands and western swing bands and all kinds of folkies without ever crediting the source, but Rob took the time to play part of the Robert Johnson classic before performing his own extrapolation of the idea.  His song “I Know A Girl” consists of a score of tiny verses, each of which starts with “I know a…” and offers a tiny gem of insight that, taken altogether, presents a comprehensive catalogue of human behaviour.

At one point he told a story about being at a gathering of folk singers who each tried to outdo the other by singing the saddest possible song (the winner, apparently, was Summerfolk’s artistic director, James Keelaghan).  Rob offered up his own sad song, “Throw Me From This Train”, which, though sad, probably wouldn’t have taken the prize as the saddest.  The thing about Rob Lutes’ music is that sadness seems entirely tangential to his world view.  He see beauty and grace in the world around him and even when he sings the blues it seems merely wistful.  As a result the experience of seeing him in concert leaves you feeling uplifted and optimistic about the world, as well as greatly impressed.

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One Response to Rob Lutes’ Mastery Charms Meaford Hall Audience

  1. Francis Richardson says:

    Thank you, Bill, for your wonderful reviews of all our community music. It adds to the enjoyment of the concert.

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