Friday, June 3, 2011

Pat Donohue: From Wolftrap to Lake Barcroft



It is not often that you get to put a face and fingers to a voice and guitar you have been listening to on the radio for years but we got a chance over the holiday when Pat Donohue stuck around after his Prairie Home Campion shows at Wolftrap (and NPR) to do a house concert in our neighborhood.

Stepping out of Garrison Keillor's shadow and into the solo spotlight with his acoustic Martin (Pat Donohue model), Donohue showed his virtuosity as a finger picker (former national champion) and his versatility in doing everything from touching ballads to hot Memphis blues licks and rambling Beatles medleys.

But what had me and the rest of the 80 guests rolling with laughter were his witty takes on modern life.
His lament that "I get the blues when I excercise" is prompted by his baby's complaint, " I think you're sweet but when I hug you my hands don't meet."  Nevertheless, "she's got me running, biking, running hiking, jogging everywhere I go...until I ain't got a muscle that's not in pain."

Or take the Irish Blues in which the verses are done in somber march time. "My brother's a priest, my sister's a nun and my wife  is against any measure of fun. So I go out and get the job done."
 But the chorus is a rollicking Irish jig.
"And last night...we really got going.
And last night the Guiness was flowing.
The singing and dancing I couldn't refuse.
I woke up this morning with the Irish Blues"

His paean to Chet Atkins is a tribute to how he and every other guitar picker in the world learned at the master's knee:  "I'm just sitting in the basement, stealing from Chet."

Donohue has done more than learn(or steal) from Chet and it was mesmerizing to watch him play from the second row of the living room. I was struck by the fact that his fingers were not long and delicate but looked more blue collar. They didn't "dance" across the strings, rather he massaged them at a speed that seemed both impossible and effortless.  Whether he was pounding through the Statesboro Blues or skipping through Banks of the Ohio, he could coax an amazing range of sounds from the guitar, mixing and matching styles seamlessly.

If his satires were rib tickling, his love songs were heart breaking.  Take this sample from Too Gone:
"If I was less, less like I am and more like I could be
I would still have her love, the sweetest I've ever known.
But it's too late...and it's too bad....she's too gone."


On the new CD (from Bluesky Records) his guitar is complemented on that song by Joe Savage on the pedal steel. Rich Dworsky (another PHC regular) adds piano and organ. The CD is called Nobody's Fault and each time I listen to it, Mr. Pat Donohue from St. Paul, Minnesota hits my music sweet spot six strings from Sunday.

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