A review of Greg Greenway: Live written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Roberta B. Schwartz
Greg Greenway is one of the few performers whose name alone makes me smile. He is a cheerleader and a preacher, a poet and a rabble rouser all rolled into one. His music is dynamic and uplifting, as well as thoughtful, deep and layered.
As good as Greenway’s studio recordings are, the energy and passion of his live shows have never been fully captured on disc. So for those who have clamored for a live recording, here it is. Greenway and his friend, producer and recording engineer, Neale Eckstein, have captured a live performance, from beginning to end, at the popular Boston area music series Circle of Friends in Franklin, Massachusetts.
Marilyn Rae Beyer of Boston folk radio’s WUMB opens the recorded show by introducing Greenway as “an electrifying force,” and so he is. Opening with the anthem A Road Worth Walking Down from his first CD of the same title, you can picture the audience jumping to its feet with the tune’s driving beat and call to keep moving forward.
It’s always amazing to hear what a truly gifted singer/songwriter can do with just his voice and an acoustic guitar. Greenway takes the image of a train in motion, backs it with his skillful picking and strumming and his appealing tenor, and takes it skyward in Runaway Train.
Only Greg Greenway can tackle the big issues: life, death and the journey towards both, write a song about them, and then turn that song into a crowd pleasing energizer and sing-a-long. He does just this in “Every Little Day,” and has the audience eating out of his hand.
Greenway is well-known for working from a world music perspective. Weaving together a Latin beat, some African drum and a bit of traditional Celtic folk, he sings the lovely, haunting “Mystery of Life” with Patty Barkas on backing vocals and Lisa Brown on percussion. It’s one of those songs that’s so stunning it takes your breath away - you want to get lost in its melody.
One of the great things about live recordings is that you get a chance to hear things you would not experience on studio productions. One of these treats is hearing Greenway play the piano on You Don’t Travel Like I Do. And then there’s the impromptu audience participation on Summer Song, and the intro to Don’t Make Me Sing, which is dedicated to a first timer to one of Greenway’s shows. And then there’s Greenway forgetting the words to the song!
The recording closes with an inspiring, rousing rendition of Free At Last, a tribute to Nelson Mandela and all those who enjoy freedom. This is followed by Greenway’s intro to In the Name of Love/Pride, about Martin Luther King and his quest for equal rights.
Greg Greenway Live gives us the best of Greg Greenway and makes us all feel like we were there on a warm summer night in a hushed concert hall. All I can say is this - that the world feels a bit brighter and a whole lot better when you become part of Greenway’s passion. Go ahead - turn on the music, turn on the light, and smile.
I’m sure it was Neale Eckstein’s idea to do a live CD. I’m sure we talked about the tech part of it, then talked to Jake Jacobson at the Circle of Friends. Jake was amenable to adding a show to their calendar and that led us to June 28. Perfect.
It turned out to be a loud and fateful choice. We all knew about Junes in Massachusetts, they can be anywhere on the spectrum weather-wise. What we didn’t know was that the Circle of Friends wasn’t air conditioned. All the way though Thursday of that week, it was rainy and in the 60s. Then suddenly, on Friday, it hit 95 degrees... and stayed that way through Saturday. Fine, we can just keep the fans on all day and open the windows that evening when 300 people were to be seated. But after we had placed six live mics around the room to capture the true energy of the evening, we opened the windows to the roar of thousands upon thousands of peepers and frogs in the pond behind the building coming out of hibernation and ready for love. It was cacophonous. Since they’d never gone this late in the season, no one had any inkling of this rapacious rhapsody of reptilian romance. (continued below)
Who were we to stand in love’s way.
If not for Neale Eckstein’s relentless energy in solving this issue, both on the night of, and in the studio later, Greg Greenway: Live could have been a National Geographic special. He even went as far as contacting companies in Hollywood that specialize in removing overhead airplane roar from movie soundtracks. So, as always, my hat is off to Neale. His ingenuity made it work.
It’s a daunting task to perform a live CD. You want everything to be perfect, knowing that it won’t be. But, I love a challenge. The end result was one of the great set of memories of my life. It’s something that is rooted in my belief about performing - practice everything to the nth degree and then on the night of - have fun. And who better to share this philosophy, on this night, and this stage than Patty Barkus (on backing vocals) and Lisa Brown (on percussion). Together we always had a kind of collective good nature. We were going to need it.
Truly the high point of any live performance is when the lead singer forgets the words. This almost never happens to me, but I’m glad it did. “Don’t Make Me Sing” is what everyone remembers from this CD, because, even with all of the preparation, I lost it in the middle of the song. I remember that moment like it just happened. I knew that there were six live mics in the room and I heard a sound I didn’t recognize from over my left shoulder. It’s amazing how fast your mind works under pressure and I suddenly went into tech brain. The sound made me turn to look and when I turned back around, all was gone.
What I truly love about this recorded moment is how Patty, who was in the middle of a note, and Lisa, and me - for that matter - just kept going, as I tried to find it again. I visualize Patty’s vocal part like Woodstock’s flight pattern in Peanuts as she tried to flitter her way back to wherever I was going. I, of course, was totally lost. But, somehow it got funnier and funnier. Then when I finally remembered, the audience became the star with a roar of mock applause.
This led to days later in the studio where Neale said to me, “ I just want you to sit down and listen to this.” I had an inkling of what was going to happen. He hadn’t edited that fateful moment from the song. It was a very wise choice. When I heard Patty’s belted out laugh, I pushed the chair back and said, “We’re keeping this.” Neale said, “I was hoping you were going to say that.” And history was made.
I also remember this night as the one where I debuted as a piano player on “Tennessee” and “You Don’t Travel.” It was also the debut of “My Good Name,” a song that became a staple in my concerts for years to come. But, mostly, in retrospect, what I love about this CD is hearing the live audience, the back and forth. The CD was made by everyone in the room. It’s a family album. Love was everywhere. I’d like to think that we gave the peepers a run for their money.
Greg Greenway: guitar, piano, vocals
Patty Barkas: vocals
Lisa Brown: percussion, vocals
Thanks to: Jake Jacobson, the fearless leader, as well as all of the volunteers at C of F:
Tony Muto, Mark Plukas, Meg Loring, Karen Perkuhn, Ann Willever, Tom DiGioia,
Dan Davis, Bill Atamian, Adeline Bee, Ree Callahan, and Barry Kasindorf.
To Karen D’Arcy, Jane Irwin, Gary McManus, Howard Cannon, and Gary Kavanaugh.
Special thanks to: Neale, who put as much love and effort into this CD as I did;,
Marily Rae Beyer of WUMB, Patty, and Lisa; Jeff St. Pierre, Laurie Laba, Tom P-R,
Kim & Reggie Harris, David Roth, Sonny Ochs, each & every Hoit, K D’A, Bif and
“The Choir,” Jeanie Beanie, & the incredible audience that allowed this to be called “Live.”
Recorded by Neale Eckstein
Mixed at Fox Run Studio by Neale Eckstein and Greg Greenway
Mastered by Dana J. White at Specialized Mastering
Cover Photo by Jayne Toohey
Tray Card Photo by Janet Caliri
All songs by Greg Greenway ©Sheen of Heat Music, except “Free at Last” by GG and
Ron Curcio ©Sheen of Heat/Kanuba Music, and “In the Name of Love/ Pride by U2,
Bono, and Greg Greenway