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Published: 2002/04/03
by Bill Watkins

Reed Foehl, Johnny D’s, Somerville, MA- 3/28

"A Simple Spark"

When you think of a Spark, you may think of energy, electricity or some sort of burning connection. One of the best attributes of the solo work of Reed Foehl is his ability to combine simplicity with a Spark. Reed’s latest album, entitled Spark, layers new sounds with the delicate and gut wrenching lyrics that marked his former work. Reed has been performing solo around the New England area since his band Acoustic Junction broke up in 1999 and has worked with some of the best, including Graham Nash.

Johnny D’s, arguably one of the best blues bars in the Boston area was a perfect venue for Reed and his new material as many familiar faces gathered. No one could tell there had been a ten-year hiatus between performances at the Somerville restaurant and bar except perhaps for a few old-school tapers who patched into the soundboard early. People mingled in the bar and gathered in the back part of the intimate room fairly quickly.

The one drawback of Johnny D’s is the basic set-up as artists are surrounded in a U shape of people finishing dinner and chattering from time to time. An artist may feel it’s a distraction, although a veteran like Reed appeared to take it in stride and use the close setting for a springboard for his material. Reed will admit he can be a talker on stage as he creates a synergy between everyone while letting himself get comfortable with his surroundings. Within moments he addressed the audience with a smile and encouraged them to come up and dance as he would “only give them half a song to move closer.”

The first set was acoustic with Putnam Murdock, a Boston musician who has been playing guitar with Reed for some of his latest work. Reed opened with “Saint Dominick's Preview,” a Van Morrison title track that references an early Parisian singer, Edith Piaf and the jazz scene in New York City in the early 30’s. A unique opener that seemed very fitting given Reed’s folk background. “Martyr,” an Acoustic Junction favorite was next and that was the point when the crowd seemed to loosen up and move closer for a better feel. Reed told a little story to let Putnam know one of the first set songs, “Souvenirs,” and the crowd seemed to love the interaction on stage. “Melt,” another Acoustic Junction anthem captured the audience’s attention even those unfamiliar with the song. All in all a strong first set, with another cover, “Coming Down” by David Gray and a set closer called, “Whereabouts Unknown.”

Set two featured Reed's current band. Joe Boyle, a Northampton, Mass resident provided subtle yet flavorful electric guitar solos. Bostonians Billy Beard on drums and Steve “D” on bass locked in right away, providing a solid background for Reed's songcraft, which remained the focus of much of the evening. “When it Comes Around”, “Come September” and “Days Are Like” proved to be particular stand-outs. On “Days Are Like” Reed brought Acoustic Junction keyboardist/flutist Tim Roper to the stage along with Christine Calello on vocals. Calello and Reed used to perform together in Faneuil hall as the “Dover Duo” and he proceeded to joke that he was “the only boy invited to her first grade birthday party.” “Days Are Like” was intense as Calello tried to match the back-up vocals by Putnam, however, it seemed like the levels of her microphone were a tad soft. They gathered momentum and Putnam's singing continued to peak with his scruffy voice adding depth to the songs, especially “Long Way Till Tomorrow.” The contrasting dynamics of Reed and Putnam continued to gel through out the show leading to the most upbeat moment of the night with a raucous cover of “Who Do You Love.” The cerebral “Goodbye World” followed as the band lowered the energy in the room to allow listeners to absorb some of his most moving lyrics. “Little slap, a baby cries, eighty years later somebody dies, it’s a “Goodbye World” and I can see right through it.”

To end the night, Reed jumped on the keyboards by himself for an “unplugged” segment of sorts in which he gave the audience a better idea of his roots and a small display of what resonates through his mind when writing his music. After “Over Love,” ostensibly the evening's beautiful closer, he invited the band back for two songs off Spark, "Cataleen" and "Remedy." The audience rewarded Reed and his band members with a loud applause while they gathered back on stage and ended what seemed to be a great reunion show at the Somerville blues restaurant and bar as a new leg to a talented musician's career moves forward.

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