His name doesn’t sound like it would ever be spoken in the same breath as Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger, but Vikesh Kapoor casts the same magical spells as those celebrated icons of American folk.
Kapoor, that’s who. And he’ll be playing Cleveland’s Beachland Tavern this Monday, February 17th.
With his shock of vertical hair and harmonica at the ready ‘round his neck, the Pennsylvania native does bear some resemblance to a young Bob Dylan—but his voice is softer and sweeter. And Kapoor’s Mama Bird Records debut, The Ballad of Willy Robbins, is as authentic and sincere a tribute to the working class as any of those troubadour’s early blue collar cantos.
Partly inspired by a newspaper article, the pseudo-concept album chronicles the life and times of a construction worker tasked with erecting a tower on a tight deadline. Willy dutifully grabs his hard hat, gloves, and pail (“Bottom of the Ladder”) and heads for the job site, but his days feel “as dark as the dying bark of a hemlock tree.” Perched precariously over the city, he keeps “sight of the beam” and maintains his balance—but quietly entertains thoughts of plummeting into the abyss.
Watch the video for Vikesh Kapoor’s “Bottom of the Ladder” here: http://vimeo.com/75907157
Willy’s mood doesn’t exactly improve when his wife leaves him (“I Never Knew What I Saw in You”) and his paycheck gets lost in the mail. Like most working men (and women), he numbs himself with hot meals and television and retires for the night (“Ballad of Willy Robbins”). Then it’s up and at ‘em once more—a vicious cycle of soul-crusing loser-dom that offers little chance of salvation in a town whose time has passed (“Ode to My Hometown”).
Watch the video for Vikesh Kapoor’s “I Dreamt Blues” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=NkzEYb3iuHY
Our modern-day Loman takes solace in a face he sees regularly through a diner window (“Blue-Eyed Baby”). His wishes his life bore the antiseptic “ammonia sheen” of the restaurant countertops, but he’s anxious and fancies there’s “an anvil in my chest.” Despondent, hungry, and sleep-deprived, he imagines he’s a seagull diving beneath the tides (“Forever Gone”) of human existence: It’s hard to believe people will miss you when you already feel abandoned, overlooked, forgotten, cast away.
The disc would be downright depressing if the music weren’t so damned lovely.
Kapoor’s shimmery, delicate 6 and 12-string guitars are augmented by sparse bass, courtesy Nate Query (The Decemberists) and Jeff Ratner (Langhorn Slim). Holland Andrews colors the mix with breathy clarinet (“Forever Gone”) and Daniel Dixon plucks a sprightly banjo (“Carry Me, Home”). Paul Brainard works the pedal steel, Danny O’Hanlon strums mandolin, and Kapoor himself adds dulcimer, bells, glockenspiel, Mellotron, and (naturally) mournful harp solos.
What emerges from the nine-track tale is one man’s struggle for meaning and self-worth (versus malaise)—an allegory most 9-to-5’ers can appreciate—set to sparse, lilting acoustic strains and Kapoor’s plaintive vocal. The guitar arpeggios are delicate but mesmeric, and the singer hypnotizes with his earnest, airy falsetto on several songs.
The former mason’s apprentice will render Willy’s distracting “television dream” live in concert in the Beachland’s intimate pub Monday night. If you dig Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Tom Russell—or prefer Springsteen’s one-man unplugged story-songs to his pop rock hits—Vikesh is sure to tug your heartstrings.
Vikesh Kapoor, Jon Meador (Saint Seneca), Tom Evanchuk. Monday, February 17th at 8:00pm. Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Road, Cleveland, Ohio. Tickets are $8.00 or $10.00 DOS.