Stefan Grossman, Ralph McTell and John Renbourn share a common instrument (the acoustic guitar), a common record company (Kicking Mule), and a common faith of the power of understated folk music. Saturday night they shared the stage at the Ontario Theater and showed off the power of folk guitar picking and ballad singing.
The Brooklyn-born Grossman, co-owner of Kicking Mule Records, opened with a solo set dominated by guitar instrumentals. "Tightrope" was an original instrumental about the effects of England's thick, brown Newcastle ale. The comic hangover effects included staggering plucks on the bass strings and bleary twangs on the treble strings. On a ragtime medley, Grossman made good his boast to "make the guitar sound like a piano."
McTell followed with a set of his original songs. He's the British equivalent of American folk singers like Tom Paxton or Eric Andersen.All three sing moodily over simply guitar. All three produce many weak, sentimental compositions and a few minor classics. Saturday McTell's jewels included a cult favorite, "Streets of London," and a brand new song, "Don't Leave Martin Alone Tonight."
London-born John Renbourn, once a key member of Pentangle, followed with a solo set. His fingers glided across the frets like tap shoes blurring over the boards. His singing was negated by a bad bout of flu, but he played with the medieval grace that gave rise to the term "baroque folk." The highlight of the night was the delightful dialogue of Renbourn and Grossman's closing guitar duet.