The award-winning singer/songwriter Rupert Wates returned to ArtMusic Coffeehouse the Friday night of September 14th. His lyrics run the gamut of life’s ups and downs, with an emphasis on the downs. While the same can be said of most blues and several other categories of music, I found Wates’ music to be more compelling, more sympathetic and more emotionally accessible than that of many other modern performers.
Wates is British by birth yet known for his Americana. He left rainy London for five years in Paris, then moved to Seattle where he experienced more rain. During Friday’s performance, Wates admitted that the constant precipitation made its way into several of his song titles: “Come In, Come Out of the Rain,” “After the Rains,” “Rainfall,” and so on. This repetition isn’t bad, since it means that Wates has explored rain through his music and used it to express a wide range of human experiences.
Though a foreign artist producing characteristically American music is ironic, it isn’t new. The Blues is popular in Europe and the UK (not to mention Japan, where anything American can be a source of fascination) and the overseas movement has given rise to legends like John Mayall and his numerous Bluesbreakers, and Cream’s Clapton, Bruce and Baker.
Speaking of Cream’s bassist, his name came up during the interview, when I asked Rupert to characterize his personal sound. He explained that he likes to emphasize interesting bass lines, as opposed to repetitive backups that, to his mind, don’t add much to the music. I cited the example of Jack Bruce in Cream, whose metamorphic bass parts communicate with Eric Clapton’s lead guitar and evolve over the course of a song. While Robin Kessler has pointed out that this sort of thing is common among jazz musicians, Cream was a mainstream group that departed from the note-for-note dogmatism found in most popular music then as well as now.
Another notable feature of the performance was Wates’ rendition of Leo Kottke’s instrumental piece, “The Fisherman.” I was impressed not only by the speed and accuracy of Rupert’s playing, but also the emotional content of the performance. Without the use of words, “The Fisherman” takes the listener on an emotional journey which is hard for me to describe. I was pleasantly surprised when I looked up a performance of the song by the original artist, and found that Rupert had been playing a significantly up-tempo version of an already fast and technically demanding song.
I should also mention the performance of Don Slepian, who opens for all of his guest performers at ArtMusic Coffeehouse. He produced a Spanish guitar piece through his keyboard, and later played recorder alongside the guest performer. Don’s a talented musician and he always provides something new.