Sam Baker, Natalia Zukerman, John Fullbright
The White Mule
Thursday, July 1st, 2010
Sometimes artists live up to their billing; on this particular night the three on the marquee transcended it. Brought together by a mutual business agent who arranged this tour, Sam Baker, Natalia Zukerman, and John Fullbright couldn’t be more different yet over the course of several weeks they had obviously developed an affinity for each other that spilled over onto the stage.
Presented as an in-the-round show with all three musicians on stage together, this was much more than a mere song swap. Brooklynite Zukerman’s experience as part of Andy Friedman’s Other Failures band showed, as she added tasty lap steel and acoustic guitar licks to both Fullbright and Baker’s tunes; Fullbright spent much of the night on a keyboard accompanying the others as well. Even Baker, whose idiosyncratic style seemed like it would mesh the least with the group, pitched in with harmonica fills and some background vocal turns when it wasn’t his turn to sing lead.
The senior of the three both in age and reputation, Baker’s songs benefited the most from the additional instrumentation offered. Spare, haunting tales that Baker half speaks, half sings, with Zukerman and Fullbright along for the ride the songs took on added depth and dimension.
Zukerman was the most unfamiliar to the audience, yet her songs drew some of the loudest applause as she laid down stinging bottleneck slide guitar to go along with them. Fullbright’s keyboard accompaniment at times threatened to carry them both away on extended instrumental flights, stretching out several songs into codas that could have lasted for many more minutes than they did.
If Zukerman was a suprise, then Fullbright was a revelation. With his only recorded work to date being a solo live disc where he plays only acoustic guitar, the work he did on keyboards during this show went a long way toward dispelling those hyped-up accounts of the Okema, Oklahoma resident as “The next Woody Guthrie.” Fullbright has a little of the protest singer in him, evidenced by a chilling version of a Dan Bern song about a disabled veteran, but it was a song of his own about children, performed on the keyboard, which brought the audience to tears.
Separately, each of these artists could undoubtedly enthrall an audience; having them on stage and on each song together was a rare and welcome treat.
If you have not had a chance to see them on this mini-tour, check out the videos below from a different show last Saturday at the Berkeley Cafe in Raleigh, NC: