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Lyonhart's Musical Mirrors by Gary Alexander - May 17, 2012
May 17, 2012

LYONHART’S MUSICAL MIRRORS
 
In the rush of images and memories that came with the news about Levon,
personal and universal, was a ghost parade of songs, each touched alive
by the mere thought of them. The Band classics, of course, Levon’s solo
flights-in a flash of bittersweet reflection, his “When I Go Away,” for
instance, and, in that mix, a tune about a down-home tradition that
fine Arkansas lad brought up to the region he chose to
befriend....”Ramble In the Pale Moonlight.”
That song, written in honor of Levon and the legendary musical
“rambles” at his home and studio in Woodstock, is sure to be on the
agenda when its authors, Charles Lyonhart and George Quinn make a
first-ever appearance at the Rosendale Café with guitarist Brian
Hollander at 8pm on Saturday, May 19th.
This trio, geared for a more intimate presentation of Lyonhart’s
songs than usually rendered by his popular backing band The Junkyard
Angels, each have a link and lost friendship with another departed and
sorely missed local legend, John Herald, of whom the New York Times
erroneously stated in John’s obit almost 7 years ago, aside from a
former wife, left “no immediate survivors.” Not so. John is survived by
a stretching expanse of influence.
George Quinn’s bubbling bass was a key part of the John Herald
Band in its heyday and Brian Hollander, aside from sitting in for a
number of worthy musicians in live performance and a few other chores
he somehow finds time for, carries on in Catskill Bluegrass tradition
as a mainstay in the Saturday Night Bluegrass Band. Lyonhart, however,
although a close friend of Herald’s, carries his own traditions of
style which can range ride a wide borderland of categories, often
finding focus in decisive moments, at crossroads, upon clutches for
balance while rising after a fall, in blinks of wonder at unexpected
ironies, in hazes when he didn’t feel solid enough to cast a shadow,
around pangs of diverging emotion or any deep sensory spike in the
scale of human experience, They mirror the landscape of life.
Another legendary musician, Greg Brown, once described himself to
me as a “songster,” at home within a variety of dressings, however
outfitted, it is the song in the center that moves the moment and
Lyonhart, as well, can be defined as a songster. From the nervous
optimism of the John Herald-inspired “Leap of Faith” to the seething
resentments of a sliding American future in “Welcome to the Third
World,” a fresh song which may see its public debut on Saturday,
Lyonhart’s distinct voice airs those frequently unspoken stirrings of
midstream impression as we find our way through the day...or night.
Deep, unuttered feelings coaxed to light by melody.
Lyonhart’s own flirtations with dark pockets at the edge of being
began with a troubled family life and broken home in the Bronx, a
couch-drifting semi-homelessness as a metro-youth and a lengthy bout
with drug addiction which he weaned himself from only when he found
opportunity and self-determination joining hands. The opportunity arose
with an experimental Beth Israel methadone program which allowed him a
once a month pick up instead of the standard drink
your-maintenance-dose at a window every other day and a successful
control over self-detoxification at his own pace that was unusual
enough in addiction that medical experts wanted to ship him to
Washington for tests and close study.
It was during this sensitive twilight of disengagement that he found
a greater depth in his music and a quality of expression which
gravitated some of the finest musicians in the area to his sessions. At
one point in his career, Lyonhart was playing with nearly every member
of Bob Dylan’s back-up band.
While not the typical background to spawn the kind of creativity
his musical trail has followed, it seems to have traveled in step with
a kind of brooding Russian intensity which may have floated in from his
birth name of Lishnov. While relationships may have fed a stream of
insights into his songs, they have yet to fully heal the saddened
wounds of disappointment in people losing their humanity to the daily
desperations of life that still tints his worldview with traces of a
kind of fatalism in the corners of many of his songs. Even after a dire
stretch of illness and a successful liver transplant, Lyonhart has his
music as the foremost animating ingredient of life. “Most of the good
people I know have either died, have AIDS, kidney problems or went
crazy,” he had noted even before the operation.
But music is a powerful motivator even to a periodically
reclusive soul in an age when popular tunes seem to be driving under a
commercial cloud toward a technological cliff. Scientists have mapped
areas of the brain responsive to music but missed still undefined
dimensions of music which reach to our very core. It is an infectious
presence in our life experience, best enjoyed live, which enriches us
in elusive ways; ways we must not lose touch with because of social
trends or its own business hurdles. It reaches us even walking alone in
the woods, repetitiously folding laundry, pondering whether to vote for
Goldman or Sachs this year or drifting off to sleep. If you’re
wondering whether to come out to the Rosendale Café to mingle with
neighbors this Saturday night, remember that music helps protect us
from the daily grind and directs us to essences which give a glow of
inner meaning, if not always individual purpose in life. It can lift us
in cascading times like the twists of the current era to actually make
a kind of non-intellectual sense of being alive and taunt with hints of
promise that we will somehow realize our own answers to the question
“why?’
 
-Gary Alexander
 

  
 

New Charles Lyonhart CD coming in 2017. Stay tuned here for details.

Check out all the articles I write for the Woodstock Times, on the HudsonValleyOne website.

Live video of me performing "Leap of Faith" at a Benefit Concert in Rhinebeck against the Dakota Pipeline with George Quinn on upright bass and Brian Hollander on dobro. November 19, 2016.

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