The Genius on my iPod might as well just say “Awesome Singer Songwriters Need Only Apply.” It is constantly shuffling around Chapin and Lyle, Pink Martini and Tom Waits, Emmylou and Patti Griffin, Catie Curtis and the Tragically Hip. And, of course, Jonatha. I’ve got other music dappled on the lists, but it is just the padding to buffer my soul, keep it from getting over stimulated by the crushing ironies and chord bending music.
Jonatha performed music from her new disc “The Works” last night at the Fairfield Theatre Company, and Colin and I went. Most of the time it was just her voice and her guitar (with a bit of percussion from her stomping boots), but the sound was as full and realized as any orchestra. Her voice is as confident in the breathiest love whispers as it is raging at full forte, and she lets the notes slip about like wingtips on ice.
She indulged in playing many of the new songs she written weaving Woody Guthrie lyrics together to form new songs from unformed ones, and no one minded. She played a scattering of “hits” from her previous albums, from Steady Pull to 10 Cent Wings and Careful What You Wish For. No one breathed. She bantered in her Red Sox t-shirt with a fellow audience member — a guy with girlfriend — who wore the same garb and was checking the scores for her during the intermission. She danced the jig she’d learned in a bar in Ireland when she was 15.
It was just the few of us there, so she introduced “The Choice” and reiterated to us it was “Yes, THAT choice” before she and the piano collided in the song. She told us offhandedly about her many jobs over the years– janitor, housekeeper, nanny– before she slipped in that she did not have children. So it was wild, empathetic love for someone else’s daughters that ground out of the wrenching ballad “So Much Mine.” It shattered me.
We always look at a woman and draw conclusion about her body and why? I guess because women are identified wherever they go by their shape. Jonatha was lithe and straight, holding her dancer’s posture. But as a musician and a woman, she looked like a wise pillar, with legs that launched out from her sides like uncontrollable wings. When she played her guitar, I tried to will myself into her body, if even for a moment so I could feel myself the control over that artistry, and I could hum with the vibration of those two instruments– her guitar and her body– held together by her voice.
Jonatha said she wasn’t a “folkie” so she wondered why she was chosen to enter the Woody Guthrie archive. What isn’t clear in defined categories of music was as brilliant as a sunbeam in that black box space last night — the curve of her voice bandaging the broken parts of Woody’s heart.