"I am not, in fact, a fiddler," Tracy Grammer reminded the audience at Jammin' Java on Sunday night. Grammer studied classical violin as a child, but she became known in the folk world as half of an incandescent duo with Dave Carter, who died in 2002. She's been learning tunes from Jim Henry, who's touring with her, and the ones she played on Sunday revealed a gift for the fiddle: Wielding her bow with vigor and finesse, Grammer somehow seemed to find Appalachian trad as a milepost between classical music and prog rock.
Mostly, though, the show was remarkable for its songs -- and the slowness of them. Grammer gave Carter's "Crocodile Man" -- a song she drolly revealed had been covered by Maureen McCormick ("Marcia Brady's singing this song!") -- a sultry approach that lent weight to its slightly sinister protagonist's story. On "Hey Ho," another Carter composition about marketing war to children, the measured guitar beat came with the same sure hand she used on the fiddle, each beat like a karate chop. And Henry's shimmering strums on his electric guitar on "The Power and Glory," which Carter wrote after his first failed trip to become a Nashville star, were a perfect addition to its graceful lament.
An unexpected high point was a cover of Jackson Browne's "In the Shape of a Heart." Grammer stripped away every trace of '70s overproduction, her spring-water-clear alto revealing the finely crafted song that lay beneath.
-- Pamela Murray Winters