Nowadays, Ma Crow has her own Bluegrass band, The Motherpluckers, and Jenny Lynn Shepherd, formerly of Shepherd's Pi, sings lead vocals with the Flock. The band has resisted re-titling themselves The Shepherd & Her Flock.
On Jan. 19 The Flock released their new CD, that last blaze of glory, to an appreciative audience in the now-winterized courtyard at Arnold's. With a high ceiling, demure lighting, the old wooden benches against the exposed brick walls, a new smaller tree in the center and the rustic green stage, The Flock seemed to belong here.
Their signature sound is still Dave Gilligan's amazing harmonica, sometimes blending with Shepherd's flute on Celtic instrumentals and other times a contrasting voice to John Redell's bluesy guitar trading off leads. Redell, Gilligan and Shepherd share vocals from song to song, each alternately taking back-up, lead and harmony.
Jay Sofranec plays bass and Mike Sontag is on drumkit. The Jan. 19 show was standing room only for the first two sets, and the crowd was especially still and quiet when Shepherd sang her haunting version of "Red Is the Rose."
I sat down with The Flock at a working rehearsal in a warm compact house on a narrow dead-end street in Mount Auburn on the cusp of Over-the-Rhine. The musicians pulled chairs around a wooden table covered with a brightly checkered tablecloth. Instrument cases, electronic tuners, sheets of lyrics and chord progressions surrounded the flames of three small red candles and a simple vase with white chrysanthemums.
Guitar sounds, quiet chords, the light clicking of picks -- notes flow and it's not music yet, but anticipation fills the room. A working silver flute is assembled, warmed and tested. Gilligan's harmonicas emerge from a tattered box. One is tested at a low volume.
The flute and harmonica are played in unison on a complex repetitive melody with warm strings backing. Tom Beyer, new to the tune, plays a skilled lead line, the guitar teasing the ear. The tune ends.
Consensus satisfaction is noted briefly, and they all move on to "Problems with Democracy." It's catchy, and Gilligan plays rhythm guitar, not harmonica. The lyric goes: "Elections are expensive, candidates need cash, but our democratic process is free." Shepherd sings lead; the guitars swing with Sofranec's Rickenbacker bass, and Sontag keeps rhythm.
Sofranec says when they stop, "Amazing how you sang the whole thing without your tongue ever leaving your cheek."
This one doesn't take much work, and there's discussion of breaking it out next show. Consensus again. The next one, called "The Luddites," has the catchy refrain: "The voice you hear late at night is saying the Luddites were right." (Luddism was movement in late 18th century England attributed to a mythical badass, Ned Ludd, who destroyed stocking looms. The term was later appropriated mostly by those opposed to it to denote anyone anti-technology.)
The musicians know the history and don't share it but make cryptic references. Gilligan sings lead, his deep voice soft among the strings and Shepherd's flute. They work the Mission Impossible theme into the background. This one is never quite finished, but a playful spirit shines.
The yellow dog with the pink nose settles in under the table, lost in the music. Sofranec sings an interlude: "Woke up this morning, you were on my mind." Gilligan starts another one, with the refrain "Hate to see you go," and the lyric is wonderful: "Like a beach being washed away by the pounding seas, like a government dissolving civil liberties."
There are many verses, themes of politics, nature and philosophy. This iconic Cincinnati bar band has a heart, mind and spirit. They perform Folk music, Roots Rock, Blues, Celtic and Pop in playful combination.
The musicians in The Flock share their learning process openly with dignity. Each is involved in many other musical endeavors yet gives fully to this one.
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