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Performer, venue make for worthwhile experience
October 12, 2009 - Bill Ackerbauer
On Saturday night, I had my first opportunity to catch a show at SkyHeart Studio in downtown Gloversville. Neither the venue nor the performers failed to impress; they seemed well-suited to each other, and I don't think I was the only one in the audience who ate up the experience.
Excellent eating was involved, literally: At intermission, co-hosts Mike McAllister and Hannah Hanlon served up coffee, tea and a variety of sweets McAllister prepared from scratch, including pumpkin brownies, tiny chocolate-raspberry cakes and two types of cheesecake (apricot and vanilla-chocolate-hazelnut).
I described SkyHeart a bit in my last post, and you can read all about it at www.skyheartstudio.com, so I won't go into too much detail here. It suffices to say that between the two bare-brick walls of a loft overlooking South Main Street, SkyHeart offers art-friendly ambience and acoustics like no place else in the Glove Cities.
As for the music: Cobleskill-based singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Tom Throws poured out two satisfying sets of more than a dozen original songs, a smattering of instrumentals and a few tasteful Americana covers.
Tom is no slouch in the lyrical, vocal or instrumental departments, yet his delivery and the overall atmosphere of the evening were all the more effective for the accompaniment of Stephen Orsini on five-string double bass.
Instead of starting the show in high gear, Throws eased into it with a thoughtful cover of "Presbyterian Guitar," a fingerstyle instrumental by the late John Hartford. I was tickled by this choice, because I first knew Tom as a mandolin player (he picked some hot mando on Sam Whedon's 1995 album "17 Songs") and Hartford was always a favorite of mine for his oddball virtuosity on the banjo and fiddle -- not the acoustic guitar.
But the guitar was Tom's main ax throughout the performance, as he displayed fingerpicking and flatpicking chops on songs jumping from ragtimey blues to swing to bluegrass. His lyrics drew laughs on originals such as "Howes Cave Blues," about the indignities of being dumped in Schoharie County, and "Murder," in which the deserving victim is a television set. The songwriting zigged philosophical and zagged spiritual on deeper pieces such as "Journey" and "Is Returning," and melancholy tones rang out in the singer's voice on laments such as "She's Gone" and "Wishing on Stars."
On "Invocation," Throws and Orsini hit their stride as a jazz duo, trading solos that threw sparks and drew applause from the listeners. On the five-string, Orsini showed the sign of a great accompanist -- his transitions between subdued backup and sweet-and-low solos blended so smoothly that it hardly seemed to matter which mode he was in at a given moment. His playing was consistently interesting, without ever stealing attention from the frontman.
Throws offered glimpses of his considerable talents on other instruments, setting the guitar aside for the mandolin to end the first set with his composition "Cherry Valley Waltz." (See video of this one below.) Near the end of the evening, he treated the audience to the sound of unaccompanied Irish low whistle -- a haunting instrument rarely heard in this area.
In a nod to Doc Watson, Throws ended the show with a fun mix of bang and twang, flatpicking the bejeezus out of the old-time and bluegrass standard "Hand Me Down my Walking Cane."
"Throws" is the stage surname of the musician formerly known as Tom Wadsworth. It seems he started using the new moniker just a few weeks ago and is still in an awkward phase during which nobody knows exactly what to call him.
"The story is pretty simple: I’m tired of a surname that sounds like a stuffy English lawyer," he wrote on his Web site recently. Presumably, this will be set in stone by the time he releases his second CD, which he plans to title "Tom Throws." The disc isn't complete yet, so it's not too late for him to switch to something more exotic and less anglo-litigious, such as "Tom Dickenharry," "Tom Night Shyamalan" or "The Tom Sanchez Experience." Granted, these suggestions come from somebody whose last name is difficult to spell and rhymes with "sack-of-flour," so I digress. You can get a copy of his first disc, "Skeleton Man," through CD Baby.
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(The Leader-Herald/Bill Ackerbauer) Tom Throws performs Saturday at SkyHeart Studio. (Scroll down to see video of Tom and Stephen Orsini playing "Cherry Valley Waltz.")