Olivia Quillio, Caroline Mother Judge, Lonesome Val, and Ashley Sofia at The Hangar, Troy, NY – Friday, June 12, 2015

Sirens of Song 1

By the time Olivia Quillio took the stage, the crowd at The Hangar had already taken in three hours of female singer songwriters. She took a quick peek to see if there were any children in the audience, and her face lit up in a smile: “What a fucking great night this has been, am I right? If you didn’t know what a woman was before you came here, now you do. This has been your little information session.”

I was raised by a single mother. I grew up during the Lilith Fair era. My adolescent wet dreams were about Natalie Merchant and Tori Amos. I’ve spent the past ten years working as a teacher and social worker, so sometimes it really does seem to me like Beyonce was right about who run the world. But all I need to do is read the news for five minutes and see shit like this, or walk right down the hall from my office to the domestic violence department, to be reminded that humanity is anything but post-feminist.[1]

So yes, I think there is still a strong need for events where four women from two different generations are put on a pedestal for some reason other than because they are so pretty (but they are all so freaking pretty. It’s just awful, isn’t it?). And yes, it was a great night.

Quillio, a farm girl turned prolific songwriter, headlined the show with her raw and emotional brand of folk music. Her voice is simultaneously precise and precarious; she knows how to approach the line of a gasp or a crack without going completely twangy. There’s something essentially feminine in the way both her cadence and lyrics can express just a little bit of desperation before bouncing back toward a position of strength and safety. Olivia is young and on the ascendant, in the process of completing her second full album of original songs. She recently released the single “Meet You at the Bottom,” recorded in studio with drums and some additional instrumentation. Performing live, her songs are stripped down to just her and an acoustic guitar, usually accompanied by Mike Jenkins and his stand-up bass:

Her performance was partially defined by the confessional chatter she shared with the audience when she wasn’t singing. Ms. Quillio seems to be engaging in a process of public self-realization and it’s possible that her ideal concert experience would involve her participating in an extremely intense group therapy session where audience members share their deepest, darkest secrets and then sing along to her songs. I could see Olivia being a really great music therapist sometime in the distant future.[2] Not right now, though. She needs several more years to work on her own issues, pursue widespread fame, and go out drinking with her friends until she passes out with her own puke caked on the inside of her glasses:

Olivia Quillio’s new album Get Down and Pray will be released this summer. You can purchase her music here, and find out where you can see her live here.

Speaking of a woman who has fully matured as an artist and benefactor to her community, Caroline Mother Judge engaged the audience with her strong presence in front of a talented collection of backing musicians. Caroline has been a hub of the area’s music scene since the 1970s (she’s been on stage with The Band), hosting open mics and running her own studio. Her music seems to be drawn from eclectic influences, but retains a very rootsy feel. Her place as a musical matriarch in Upstate New York has helped her assemble a really strong band, and she was joined onstage for several songs by her friend Mitch Elrod.

You can hear more of the music of Mother Judge here, or visit her hosting an open mic at McGeary’s Pub in Albany every Wednesday night. Listen to “Moon Song”:

Lonesome Val Haynes was blending rock, folk, country, and old time music in her songwriting back in the early 1990s, way before the Americana fad made it cool to do so.[3] Her greatest success came in 1994 with the album NYC, a collaboration with Suzzy Roche, who produced the record and played guitars on all the tracks. She was already a legend in the Albany area, where she fronted the New Wave band Fear of Strangers in the mid-80s. Maybe her first band’s name was prescient, because Val retreated from her almost famous lifestyle about twenty years ago, returned to her home in Troy, and has made only occasional appearances onstage since.

The audience at The Hangar was treated to a rare glimpse of the charisma that brought Lonesome Val so much acclaim. Here she is performing her song “I’m Gonna Tell on You”:

Leading off was Ashley Sofia, a young songwriter from Ticonderoga, NY who released the album Love and Fury last year. Her intensely naïve lyrics are appropriate for her youth, but musically she draws on folk rock traditions. Her song “1973,” tells her story of falling in love with music as a child through her father, who taught her to play guitar. He was in attendance at The Hangar, and joined her on stage for a duet:

[1] Or to a much, much lesser extent, show up at an event called “Sirens of Song” and have to watch while some dude feels the need to call out from the audience to correct one of the performers because she said that Washington County is “east” of Troy. It’s “north,” the guy says. Well, most of it is northeast, actually, buddy. I guess having to watch a woman who is younger and more talented than him was just too much for this fella’s ego to take, so he had to assert the dominance of his sense of direction to compensate. Not that I’m judging. I also sometimes find it infuriating that all women don’t realize how much smarter I am than they are.

[2] I’m afraid posting this link may cause Olivia Quillio to move away from Troy to Austin, TX, but that was probably going to happen anyway, so here it goes.

[3] Her 1990 album Lonesome Val came out a few months before Uncle Tupelo released No Depression, and drew rave reviews, including Elvis Costello comparing her voice to Patsy Cline’s.

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