Paul Webb and Patti Casey dovetail talents on well-crafted ‘Stone Boat’
Times Argus | December 23, 2005
By Art Edelstein
Fans of singer/songwriter/ guitarist/flautist Patti Casey have had a lot to cheer about this year. Casey, the multi-talented performer from East Montpelier, has released a CD of her own songs, “The Edge of Grace,” and appeared on numerous other albums including “Wander On,” by one of the two bands she performs with, The Bluegrass Gospel Project.
Casey also appears as a backup singer and accompanist on albums by her other bandmates in the as-yet unrecorded neo-Celtic group Bellatrix. She sings backup and plays flute on two recently released CDs by Susannah Blachley and Kristina Stykos.
So, where could Casey possibly find time in her busy schedule to do yet another album? With so much work, Casey found time to be the vocalist on pianist/songwriter Paul Webb’s third CD “Stone Boat.” This is a fine combination of talents Webb’s well-crafted songs and Casey’s insightful vocals.
“Stone Boat” is an album of piano-driven songs with intelligent lyric content and memorable melodies. It’s pop rock for sure, but as soft as a mountain stream in spring.
Webb’s piano playing, influenced by the elegant style of Keith Jarrett, is the backbone of this album. Coincidentally, Webb’s drummer is Gabe Jarrett, Keith’s son. Also performing are Marshfield’s Colin McCaffrey on guitar and bass with guest appearances by Burlington stalwarts Paul Asbell on guitar, Dave Grippo on saxophone, Kip Meaker, on guitar and John Rivers on bass.
I keep playing two tracks on this CD over and over. The first, “Jimmy’s Got His Eye Out For A Cadillac,” is a song about longing and disappointment that could have come from the pen and guitar of a mellow Bruce Springsteen. Webb writes in the refrain: “And they don’t have a destination/They’re just driving aimlessly/What they got is a feeling/They got to leave.”
I also keep spinning the folk influenced “Summer Grass.” Webb’s strong sense of melody is most evident on this song. This is the one tune Webb wrote with Casey’s voice in mind. “I wrote Summer Grass pretty much for Patti after hearing her perform with the Bluegrass Gospel Project,” he explained. Here his poetic sense shines through: “April grass grows soft and green/Stony brooks search for their streams/as friends we walked and first held hands/when April’s grass covered the land.”
Webb has played piano pro-fessionally in the Burlington area for over 30 years. His original compositions have been used on radio commercials and educational videos and he has been the house pianist at the Inn at Shelburne Farms since 1987.
He and Casey previously teamed up in 2003 for three tracks on his “Green Mountain Spring” album.
Webb describes his music as “pop.” He says his music “is not rock but it has some drums and electric guitar.”
Of his style, Webb says, “You take Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Burt Bacharach, and mix it up. It doesn’t sound like them but they are songs with a beginning and end and a melody. The songs I write are lyrical, they have melodies.”
Being a songwriter who doesn’t sing his own songs could be a problem for a musician. “I don’t sing in public yet,” he admitted, adding, “I have access to Patti, so why sing?”
Casey was Webb’s singer of choice for “Stone Boat.” He describes her voice as “thick and layered.” Of her vocal quality he says; “It’s not Ivory soap pure. It’s Arm & Hammer gritty. It’s tough and soft at the same time. Her voice moves me.”
Webb, a Burlington resident, says he composes by exploring the piano keyboard searching for melody fragments. He then writes “a few key words and puts them together with the rhymes. Once you have a rhyme sequence down you fill in the blanks and often it makes sense.”
Webb is a trained classical pianist who revolted against classical piano as a senior in high school. “I had enough, I wanted to learn Beatles songs,” he remembered.
For “Stone Boat,” Webb chose Asbell, Grippo, and Meaker for specific songs. “I thought they would add to the sound.” He also decided to use percussion on most tracks. “I’ve always thought of drums as background and these are just pop tunes, but Gabe (Jarrett) is three times the drummer I needed on these tunes. He came in and nailed them, he knew exactly what I needed.”
Webb hopes as many people as possible will hear his music on “Stone Boat.” He is confident in his songs and believes they are “all fairly strong songs.”
While he is not a singer, he hopes “other artists would be interested in recording one of the songs.”
I’m not sure Webb needs to look further than Casey’s vocals for the perfect match to his music. This is a very satisfying collaboration.
For now you can only sample Webb’s songs on the recording. He hopes to arrange some duo performances with Casey, but that is for the future.
Paul Webb & Patti Casey,
Seven Days I November 9, 2005
Talented Burlington composer Paul Webb's new recording Stone Boat once again features Vermont vocalist Patti Casey, whose luxurious pipes were a highlight of his 2001 release, Green Mountain Spring. In addition to Casey, Webb's latest boasts guest appearances from some of the area's most accomplished performers, including Paul Asbell, Dave Grippo and Kip Meaker. Stone Boat is a mood piece with an earnest vibe and breezy atmosphere, a bit like Van Morrison's classic Astral Weeks.
The disc's 13 cuts are tied together by Webb's dexterous piano playing and Casey's lush vocals. Overall, the work feels like a pleasant walk in the woods on a crisp fall evening. Although Casey provides the album's sole voice, she possesses enough versatility to invest each melody with unique character. Unfortunately, her vocals are sometimes buried in the mix, making it difficult to discern the lyrics.
Guest guitarist Colin McCaffrey's solo on "Charlotte Street" bears similarities to Dickey Betts' work on the Allman Brothers classic, "Jessica." Well-known axemen Meaker and Asbell contribute to several tracks; each one of their licks helps make Stone Boat a top-notch musical experience.
"By the River" -- the sole rockin' number on the CD -- offers a brief respite from the smooth sound that Webb and co-producer/engineer/synth player Peter Engisch have crafted. With its bluesy feel, the song stands out amongst the record's mellower numbers.
The disc's closing track, "Love Is a Simple Thing," is a waltz co-written by Carol Abair, another fine Vermont composer. On it, Casey's vocals pleasantly intertwine with Dave Grippo's sax and Webb's shimmering piano work. In many ways, Stone Boat ends much as it began -- with luxuriant instrumentation and a graceful melody.
In his more than 30 years of composing and performing, Webb has developed a signature sound, and Stone Boat provides a fine example. A CD release party featuring Casey and several guests takes place this Thursday, November 10, at the FlynnSpace in Burlington.
Paul Webb has played piano professionally in the Burlington, Vermont area for over thirty years. His original compositions have been used on radio commercials and educational videos. He has been the house pianist at the Inn at Shelburne Farms since it’s opening in 1987. In 2002 a selection from his CD “Green Mountain Spring” was chosen by the Vermont Arts Council to be part of their compilation disc featuring Vermont artists, “The Cream of Vermont”. Paul is a juried artist in the councils artist registry.