Laurel Canyon was arguably songwriter Shangri-la in the 1960s. Joni Mitchell, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jackson Browne, The Mamas and The Papas, Jim Morrison, Glenn Frey, The Byrds, Frank Zappa, Buffalo Springfield, Linda Ronstadt…wove in and out of beds and bands sharing drugs and meals, cross pollinating music, often inspiring songs about each other. Writers/performers lived within walking distance. Nobody locked doors. Most bore the same financial struggles.
Jessica Vosk considers material germinated in the canyon during that era equal to The Great American Songbook. It’s clear by the performer’s infectious enthusiasm and bare feet that she feels particularly connected. As the 90 minute concert unfurls, so does the artist. An a capella segment from Joni Mitchell’s “California,” (wonderful sound, unrecognizable melody) is succeeded by “Love Has No Pride” (Libby Titus/ Eric Katz) during which not even a hip moves. Her voice, on the other hand, slips, slides, and soars.
Vosk intermittently sits on the floor, communing with audience as she offers well chosen quotes and anecdotes. 1991’s “Something to Talk About” (Shirley Eikhard) was pitched to Canadian Anne Murray who turned it down. The track became Bonnie Raitt’s “number one hit of all time.” A rousing, sassy version with back-up vocals follows. Here Vosk lets loose jumping and gamboling around the stage, leaning in to musicians in great part with her back to us.
Bryan Perri, Jessica Vosk
Glenn Frey/Don Henley’s “Desperado” floats on piano. Vosk closes her eyes and almost keens. The rendition is similar to that of Linda Ronstadt who made the song a hit. In fact, this artist is a chameleon, often phrasing or employing an accent familiar to an original recording. “Hotel California” (Don Henley/ Don Felder/Glenn Frey) is next. Fingering the microphone as if an instrument, she shakes her head, points, and pats her chest. Audience collectively sighs with nostalgia.
My very first day in California, I drove up La Cienega to Sunset Boulevard, turned right, drove to Laurel Canyon, and the first person I saw standing on the porch at the Canyon Store was David Crosby. He was dressed exactly the way he was on the second Byrds album—that cape, and the flat wide-brimmed hat. He was standing there like a statue. Glenn Frey
“Was that fun? You’re probably asking yourselves why I just sang two Eagles’ songs.” Vosk tells us the group’s album was not selling. Frey called Linda Ronstadt who cut a single of “Desperado” and took them on tour as her back-up band. The Eagles reputation burgeoned. “Blue Bayou” (Roy Orbison/Joe Melson), also popularized by Ronstadt, is a highlight. Unexpected fiddle (Justin Smith) adds immeasurably. The song has a hammock lilt and molasses richness.
James Taylor wrote “Fire and Rain” when he was “going through a lot of shit.” In response, his friend Carole King came up with “You’ve Got a Friend.” Taylor recorded it without her knowledge. They argued. He invited her to go on the road, perhaps to cure King’s abject stage fright. She then wrote “It’s Too Late” (with Toni Stern) which Vosk conjectures might be a retort. Interpretation is buoyant. We’re encouraged to sing along with the last chorus. “Collaborations were about simple things,” she observes.
Gabe Violett, Jessica Vosk, Abigail Sparrow
My house is a very free house. It’s not a crash pad and people don’t come without calling. But on an afternoon, especially on weekends, I always get a lot of delicatessen food in because I know David [Crosby] is going to come over for a swim and things are going to happen. (Mama Cass)
Vosk tells the romantic origin story of Graham Nash’s “Our House,” penned when he was living with Joni Mitchell. Stevie Nicks’ “Gypsy” arrives with gravitas and a sob in the voice. The artist handles serious lyrics as handily as more playful songs. This evening ends with “California Dreamin” (John Phillips/Michelle Phillips) and “Make Your Own Kind of Music” (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil). Audience sways, claps, and sings. Jessica Vosk is a Pied Piper.
Talented guest Eden Espinosa got extremely short shrift with a single duet during which she mostly sang back-up.
Sound design featured an over hot bass and band volume so high it often buried lyrics.
Photos by Joseph Sinnott
92Y Lyrics & Lyricists presents
California Dreamin’: Jessica Vosk Sings the Songs of Laurel Canyon
Conceived, Co-Written and Performed by Jessica Vosk
Director/Co-Writer James Darrah
MD/Piano- Bryan Perri
Guest Eden Espinosa
Back-Up Vocals: Abigail Sparrow, Gabe Violett