To summon the emotions from another person’s life story and personal struggles, and be able to convey everyday events that instantly evoke a sense of time, place and personality takes a special gift. When one thinks of master storytellers who touch people’s souls, names like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan come to mind. While many musicians have been inspired by Guthrie and those such as Seeger and Dylan who proudly carried the torch after him, very few have the necessary gravitas to convincingly pull it off. Folk music is a tricky animal. It’s a rare breed who can sing about the seemingly mundane life of the common man and elevate his actions and feelings to a reverent realm, without coming off as simplistic or overly sentimental. To delicately weave in a socio-political message is even trickier. Bruce Springsteen can do it. So can Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. It’s not a long list. So when I saw Vikesh Kapoor mentioned alongside the legendary Guthrie and Dylan, and even named in The New Yorker as one of Guthrie’s natural successors, I was skeptical.
Vikesh Kapoor hails from rural Pennsylvania and did some time as a mason’s apprentice, getting a firsthand taste of blue-collar life. Upon performing at author and activist Howard Zinn’s funeral in 2010, he had an epiphany of sorts and set out to tell socially conscious and politically informed stories of everyday people. What got my attention are the songs themselves on his debut album, The Ballad of Willie Robbins (Mama Bird Recording Co.).
This is a young man with an old soul. His first effort is a concept album about working man Willie Robbins and his real-life daily struggle to not only survive but thrive, most simply and poignantly expressed in the title track. The songs are sad but also celebratory, raising the human condition to lofty heights. Other stand-out tracks are the mournful and solitary “I Dreamt Blues,” with its heart-wrenching lyrics and harmonica cry, the bittersweet banjo-tinged lament of “Bottom Of The Ladder” and the haunting “Carry Me Home,” in which his expressive voice is especially effective in carrying the wistful mood. “Forever Gone” is an absolute stunner of a song, a kind of “gypsy klezmer dirge” that seeps deep into the bones.
Kapoor is not only insightful into the human condition; he’s also quite enlightened about the art of storytelling. In a recent Interview Magazine article, he explains that although his debut album isn’t autobiographical, during the process of relating a story, one can’t help but be self-revealing. “In narrative, adding elements of fiction or stretching the truth can shed light on greater truths than just recounting something in a journalistic way.”
04 Dec – The Saint / Asbury Park NJ
05 Dec – North Star Bar/ Philadelphia PA
06 Dec – Cafe Nine / New Haven CT
07 Dec – The Middle East (Upstairs) / Cambridge MA – Facebook event
08 Dec – Higher Ground / Burlington VT
09 Dec – Mercury Lounge / New York NY
13 Dec – Columbia City Theater / Seattle WA – w/Frank Fairfield & more