When Jenny Parrott put down her guitar Wednesday night for an a cappella rendition of Johnny Rodgers’ “Jerusalem,” the Cafe Nine audience couldn’t help but feel that the song was her elegy to the city where she grew up.
Parrott, who grew up in Morris Cove, came back to New Haven after years in Texas and hundreds of shows around the world. She couldn’t help but feel that her hometown was no longer home.
Parrott and bandmate Vaughn Waters comprise Loves It!, an indie-folk-country-blues duo formerly based in Austin. They now operate out of a van just large enough to fit a mattress and a couple of guitars. They sang their version of “Jerusalem” Wednesday night at Cafe Nine on Crown Street for a intimate audience consisting mostly of friends and family. (Click on the play arrow above to watch a sample.)
“It always makes me nervous to play for friends,” Parrott said. “Strangers don’t know the meaning of your songs, but friends know exactly what you are talking about in your lyrics.”
None of that nervousness came up during the hour-and-a-half show, which besides the Rodgers cover included a healthy dose of the duo’s original music. Throughout, Parrott and Walters sounded like what they are—veteran traveling minstrels.
“I think we played two hundred shows last year,” said Walters (pictured below), who originally hails from Macomber, a town in West Virginia that he said has 51inhabitants.
The duo’s travels certainly inflect their lyrics, which are full of place names. They sang of America in close harmony, taking the audience on a tour of farms in West Virginia, streets in Texas, liberals arts colleges in upstate New York, and the grave of Graham Parsons by the Joshua Tree.
The show felt like the contemporary version of whatever it was that the Rolling Thunder Revue was trying to recreate.
Some of the lyrics were charmingly naïve: “I’m just a boy from the farm / and I ain’t no big city light.” Others were more serious: “By ones and twos / people we loose / what do we do / when the loss becomes of no use?”
Parrott and Walters produced a wide range of sounds with a just a couple of instruments. At different points, they were able to make an acoustic guitar sound like an electric bass, a drum kit, a harp, and a washboard.
Their set list went all the way from the bluesy soul of “The Angels Sing” to the almost-pop-punk of “My So-Called Life” and to “Dixieland”—a heartbreaking lament for the tragedies of war and the lost soul of the South. (Click on the arrow to watch a clip).
Parrott hasn’t lived in New Haven since she left her Morris Cove home at age 18 to go to college out of state.
“It doesn’t feel like home anymore. Texas doesn’t feel like home either. I don’t think I’ve settled that part of myself yet—but I do have a lot of great memories of this town,” she said.
Among those memories are long walks on the beach at Lighthouse Point, sitting on the exhaust vents of Yale’s Beinecke Library to keep warm late at night in the winter, and climbing one of the oil tanks at the Q Bridge and talking there with a friend until dawn.
She spoke so passionately about this town that on her lips Rodgers’ lyrics took on a whole new meaning:
“Jerusalem is filled with holy people . . .
Jerusalem is filled with crazy people . . .
I think we all want truth.”