By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
When singer-songwriter Richard Shindell moved to Argentina, his wife’s homeland, he did what you’d expect a singer-songwriter to do: he wrote a song about it … in Spanish.
That was one of the songs he sang Monday night at a house concert hosted by Greg and Linda Rich as a benefit for La Conexion.
He acknowledged that “Que Hago Ahora” was written in elementary Spanish to an audience that included a number of native Spanish speakers, such as Beatriz Maya, a native of Argentina and executive director of La Conexion.
Shindell said he realized just how elementary his Spanish was as he penned the song, so he wove his deficiencies in grammar into the lyrics, one of the few songs ever written that refers to the subjunctive case.
It seemed appropriate to have an American living abroad help raise money for La Conexion, which helps immigrants to this area. That coincidence was not the reason he was there. He was there because he’s an expert enough to write a song, in a language foreign to him, and refer to the subjective case.
He’s a strong enough writer to pick up an image of a bird flying off in the horizon while a wave crushes a sand castle and turn it into a ballad.
He’s a strong enough musician to back his voice with atmospheric strings that provide fills, strums, bell-like resonances, and percussive accents.
And Shindell is a good enough storyteller to weave these pieces together into an engaging evening of entertainment
When his host Greg Rich, himself a songwriter, referenced the country song “Good Year for the Roses” in one of the three songs in his introductory set, Shindell opened his set with the song itself.
Rich’s song was about how he had mistakenly included this classic breakup tune in the playlist for his and Linda’s wedding reception. “Good Year for the Roses” was playing as they entered. Shindell quipped looking at his own setlist that the theme could very well be songs inappropriate for wedding receptions.
He didn’t stint on the heartbreak. Not with “Are You Happy Now?” set on Halloween, when his lover has abandoned him for another man taking the trick-or-treat candy with her.
The heartbreak wasn’t only about romantic love. “All Wide Open” tells of a drug addict daughter showing up at her father’s house before Thanksgiving, wanting another chance. Based on the experience of a friend, the situation worked out in the best possible way, Shindell said, though the lyrics leave the listener in doubt.
Shindell does write his share of “perky songs,” as his parents describe them. They like those songs, he said, because his darker material makes them think he had an unhappy childhood. “Get Up, Clara” is one of those. It’s a variation on a classic American folk theme of a man on the road with an uncooperative mule but set in the frontier of the Roman Empire.
Clara is just one of the many animals that wander through his work. They include “Deer on the Parkway.” The beam of his headlights gleam in their eyes and all their fates hang in the balance as the deer consider the lush, sweet grass in the median strip.
Then there’s the “Stray Cow Blues,” about the cow that stays out all night on the pampas instead of following the rest of the herd. He can even spin a tale from the juxtaposition of an apprehended criminal prone on the sidewalk as parasol ants march in front of his face.
This was not Shindell’s first visit to Bowling Green. He performed here when Anne Tracy, who was in attendance, was booking folk shows in the late 1990s. He’d not been back since.
He performed a couple songs off the album from that period. “The Next Best Western” is a road song set on I-80 from Indiana to Ohio, and infused with the voice of a radio preacher. Later he performed the album’s title piece, “Reunion Hill,” which he composed for Joan Baez.
The first time in BG, he played upstairs from what was then The Junction, in the space now known as The Attic. Here he was in the living room of a home in the Stone Ridge development.
Shindell said he likes house concerts. He uses a reduced instrumentation of a couple of guitars and a bouzouki, or two-octave mandolin as he calls it when going through airport security.
The listeners, about 50 on Monday, are close and intent on the music and words. It’s a friendly setting where he can share songs and stories, whether perky or dark. This, after all, wasn’t a wedding reception.