Richard Shindell

February 5, 2000

A record SRO audience joined us to enjoy the unique talents of RICHARD SHINDELL. Our apologies to the people we had to turn away, and our thanks to the local authorities that helped us rearrange our excess cars into legal overflow neighborhood parking spaces.

Richard Shindell

Somewhere between the witty despair of Leonard Cohen's lyrics and the haunted Elysian landscapes of Richard Thompson's guitar, between the deeply ironic writing of Randy Newman and the evocative vocals of Michael Stipe, there lies the work of RICHARD SHINDELL.

"Mr. Shindell is the best writer," wrote the New York Times in its concert review of Cry Cry Cry - the folk supergroup Shindell formed with Lucy Kaplansky and alterna-folk diva Dar Williams - "crafting existential sermons informed by his seminarian past. He performed one of his finest, The Next Best Western, in a rich baritone infused with the dark glow of headlights on blacktop."

Richard Shindell is at once an unassuming everyman and an enticingly enigmatic presence in contemporary music. The details of his life are hardly a secret ... would-be Episcopalian priest, now self-described agnostic, family man, a father of three; but there exists within his writing and performance something profound, wild, and unknowable.

In the three songs of his covered by Joan Baez on her landmark 1997 album, Gone From Danger, 'Reunion Hill' and 'Money For Floods' are written from the points of view of a Civil War widow and an unmarried mother, respectively, while 'Fishing', details the interrogation of an illegal alien by a bored INS agent. In the hands of a lesser writer, such topics could be cringe-worthy excursions into the dreaded realm of folk-earnestness, but Shindell is able to make the characters and situations become real.

"His lyrics are carefully distilled essences of dramatic circumstance and personal dilemmas, mated with melodic lines that allow the words to stretch and breathe," wrote STEREO REVIEW in its review of Shindell's acclaimed third album, REUNION HILL. 1998 winner of the American Federation of Independent Music's Contemporary Folk Album of the Year (edging out such heavyweights as Bruce Cockburn, Greg Brown and John Prine), REUNION HILL began to bring Shindell the recognition that many had been forecasting. SPARROW'S POINT, Shindell's debut, had contained both the hilariously excoriating kiss-off song, 'Are You Happy Now' and the haunting 'Nora', later covered by Dar Williams.

His second release, BLUE DIVIDE, had 'Fishing' and the later Cry Cry Cry staple, 'The Ballad of Mary Magdalene', which brought Shindell the appellation "the Nicholas Katzanzakis of New Folk." The comparison to Katzanzakis, the author of The Last Temptation of Christ, delights Shindell, whose wit is nothing if not dry. Both albums had received critical praise, but it was REUNION HILL that cemented Shindell's reputation as a "songwriter's songwriter."

The Winter 1998 - Spring 1999 Cry Cry Cry tour, supporting the album of the same name, became one of the runaway success stories of the year. While tours with Dar Williams (in the US) and Joan Baez (in Europe and the US) placed Shindell before a larger audience in 1997 and 1998, Cry Cry Cry placed Shindell as one among equals. Cry3 spent six months in the POLLSTAR Top 50 US Tours and brought the vocalist in Shindell to the fore with his masterful covers of Robert Earl Keen's 'Shades of Gray' and Canadian James Keelaghan's 'Cold Missouri Waters', the story of the 13 smokejumpers who died in the 1949 conflagration detailed in Norman MacLean's book, Young Men and Fire.

And now Shindell is at work on his fourth album, and a lot of eyes are on him. Shindell may sign with an established label or he may - taking advantage of developing technology - create a joint-venture with an internet-savvy independent. Right now, the jury is out as he weighs offers. Keeping his live appearances to a minimum (virtually all his 1999 shows- both solo and with Cry3 - have been SRO), Shindell is at work on a new batch of stellar songs. Paired in the studio with Larry Campbell, guitarist for Bob Dylan and k.d. lang, Shindell is typically veiled in his comments about the work. When asked , he deadpans, "I'm working on a song about a traffic jam. I'm not yet quite sure what happens at the end; possibly the Ascension."