I got a phone call the other day from my longtime (yet still very young) friend Ginger Leigh. Said she had a new album out called “Amazing” and asked me to take a listen. I mentioned in return that her old singing partner Sarah Dashew had just sent me a download of her new album, “Sarah Dashew,” and Ginger immediately found it on the web and purchased her own download. So naturally, I thought, why not review the two albums together and in the process revisit the old Ginger and Sarah Band days well over a decade in the past.
SARAH DASHEW (self titled)
I started writing this column in September 2003, and just a month later I was writing that, “for the first time in God knows how long I got to see and hear the wonderful Sarah Dashew.” That late night solo performance at the Saxon Pub was notable for me buying Sarah’s brand-new “Music for Cruising” CD (just before I embarked on a 25th Anniversary cruise!) and for Sarah cutting her finger on her strings — but also for reminding me how glad I was that she had bounced back from a year-long illness.
A decade has passed, and while I get to hang out with Ginger all too infrequently , Sarah remains a veiled mystery — last I checked she was down in New Zealand again. But I am always like a new puppy hearing his master drive up to the house when I get any chance to interact with this amazing, strong woman who only plays every instrument on the new recording — and the very first words I hear when I get the download down are, “When I was just a bay I spent some time in Texas …” As I listen, I realize this album is a complete song cycle that begins with the recognition that whatever you thought about your last relationship while it was blossoming and blooming, you now realize that you are still alone.
“When a Train Rolls Through” speaks of the loneliness of waiting for that someone who is yet undefined to come to make your life complete. [Boy do I know that feeling of late!] The eerie “Something Wicked This Way Comes” speaks to missed opportunities, and “I Miss You” to a friendship soured by “slaking my thirst.” And “It’s Gone” is the crash after a missed ultimatum and learning that the family bond was deeper than a relationship that may have challenged that bond. And “Riding Through the Desert” speaks to the aftermath — the accusations, the misunderstandings about how each former partner deals with the breakup. “Wherever You Go” shows the bitterness that follows the hurt and pain and regret.
“Better Than This Morning” is the beginning of healing — the remembrance that there was love at the core — just not enough to overcome the obstacles. “The Road” speaks to the recognition that both are walking their own roads now . Sarah writes, “The thing I wanted most in life was just a little peace; I found the only way forward was walking through my grief; It’s not the kind of road that you would want to walk alone; But that is just the thing it takes to make your own way home.”
In “Live To Fight Another Day,” Sarah counsels herself (?) to “Follow the road that you are on; All the ways you go you’re meant to go; Let your horses show you the way home; Sometimes it is best to let them roam.” In short, just to let things go and let the wind take you when you know not the right path to follow. In the final chapter (song), the light bulb comes on and she realizes that there remains the hope, and so she throws out to the universe, “Let’s Be Friends.”
There is no benefit left from grieving or rehashing why or how or whether things could have worked out. And Sarah’s lesson for all the rest of us is straightforward: ”Spent a lot of time impatiently waiting for the world to see I was right and make things right; But that’s not the way it works and furthermore it makes things worse when you keep trying to fight it.” And like I said, Sarah, who grew up sailing in boats (big ones) her father made and sailed all over the world, has been spending time in New Zealand back in the water that is as much her home as any place on terra firma.
But how I hope Sarah will someday return to Austin for more than just one show — and yet I still have the memories of one very hot day at a long-forgotten venue on Lake Austin’s south shore and that night at Ruta Maya (also long closed) and of course the first time I saw Ginger and Sarah at yet another long-shuttered and torn down venue … she rather is a little of a pirate, come to steal your hearts and leave them longing for more.
[Photo of Jane Tutu Cones]
GINGER LEIGH – AMAZING
Now the first thing I know about Ginger Leigh is that she can laugh at herself — and while she truly IS “Amazing,” the only time she might try to pull that one off on you is if she is doing card tricks or a magic stunt. Just for effects. Because first and foremost, Ginger is a showman, the daughter of show business, and holder of what amounts to a Ph.D. in entertainment.
On the other hand, Ginger is by no means all glitter and no guts — she has made some hard choices that have sometimes had hidden or even very visible costs. Not that long ago, Ginger hosted one of the best song series in my Austin memory — at Flamingo Cantina. She has also appeared on stage at the Zachary Scott Theatre and performed all over Europe, put out numerous albums (most of which I have been privileged to review), and become a real force in this little river town.
I grabbed the new CD from Ginger in a handoff at the W Hotel as both of us were in the middle of business meetings … and smiled as she gave me a huge hug. She also thanked me for turning her onto Sarah’s new disc, noting that hers is heavily produced and Sarah’s is much starker — evidence of the very disparate directions their musical paths have taken since the days of the Ginger and Sarah Show (in which Sarah was clearly the straight woman and Ginger the comic — well, most of the time).
Back to the present — The title cut, “Amazing,” was written by Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde. Ginger also covers Dayna Kurtz, Nino Ferrer (in Italian), and Mark Addison and Nina Singh (twice) — and the rest are all her own songs (though she truly makes other people’s songs her own as well). At least two — “Better Than Well” and “Jetstream” — are studio remakes of songs on her prior album, “Better Than Well: Live at the Saxon .” One cannot mention GInger (or John Pointer) without also mentioning Patronism and the many patrons who contribute monthly toward her art. Check it out!
Ginger is joined in the studio by longtime collaborator and boy genius John Pointer on guitars and vocals, Dave Madden and Stewart Cochran on keyboards, Nina Singh herself on drums, Frank Favacho on percussion, Jeff Botta on bass, Jake Langely on lead guitar on three cuts, and the lovely Wendy Colonna on backing vocals on four songs. Cris Burns was the engineer at Summit Studio in Austin, and Ginger was her own producer. Even though this is a studio recording, you get that same sense of joy that you got from the prior live record — that you are AT a Ginger Leigh show, and for me that is as good as it was for OLDER people to get to see Bette Midler live and up close. Except Ginger is a LOT cuter!
One of the special features of this recording is Ginger singing along to an old recording of her grandmother Jane Tutu Cones (who passed away last year at the age of 82) to “That’s My Desire,” written by Helmy Kresa and Carroll Lovesday a very long time ago. (You may remember the Louis Armstrong version.) Ginger’s grandma had her own radio show in San Antonio and sang with Big Bands locally and nationally — and she was the mother to the Cones Sisters (including Ginger’s mom) — which makes Ginger at least a third generation entertainer.
The title song is power pop (as done by Ginger). Her own song “Your Place,” which follows, is sort of jazzy funk .. perfect for sloppy slow dancing. I almost visualize Michael Jackson slipping and sliding on the dance floor. The Dayna Kurtz ballad, “Love Gets in the Way,” is squeeze her tight and don’t let go slow dancing,. Longtime fans will recognize the true funk in “Better Than Well,” which is also an anthem to Ginger’s recovery from breast cancer … and a huge celebration of life lived to its fullest.
“Driver’s Seat” is a bittersweet ballad about her family and a lost love … “I wanted more than you could give to me … “ with this great line, “you were my continent and I was your city,” that describes the difference in commitment level that led to the end of a vision. “My Dear” evokes the spirit of the Broadway ballad — theatrical, showing Ginger’s emotional vocal range. “Jetstream,” remains for me maybe Ginger’s best song in ten years … a power ballad she just belts out, showing the pain that evokes the call to “rescue me.”
The musical journey of Mark Addison and Nina Singh began (I am told) with The Borrowers in a land long ago and far away (Los Angeles), then moved the band to Austin and released more music, some under the name KittyGordon (about the time I got to Austin and started paying attention). I will post an update later that gives better information on their two songs covered by Ginger here.
“Godspeed” c loses out the album (well, not really) — Ginger sings that “there are no boundaries placed on our dreams … Life is all about living — no regrets and no shame.” Not so oddly, this song has the same message of sorts that closes out Sarah’s latest album — that despite the failure (or just the temporality) of hoped for long-term relationships, we just have to keep on flying through life. The “bonus” track, “Bring Back the Light,” is a sort of slower soul pop that reminds me of Lauryn Hill.
Ginger has a show (I think it is a CD release) scheduled on April 26 at One 2 One Bar. I would plan on getting there early and grabbing a drink or two. Once the music starts you will neither have the time nor the inclination. With the band she is sure to assemble for the show, you too will fixated on the stage!