Jeff and Vida

New Orleans Acoustic Duo At The Saint

Whether newcomer or veterans, many musical acts would have cringed at being put in the situation that the New Orleans duo Jeff and Vida found themselves in at The Saint. On December 19, they played at "An Acoustic Christmas and Food Drive" with some of the shore's better acoustic acts, including Mole and Erik Balkey. Being a more traditional bluegrass, country-based band playing in a mostly rock climate can sometimes wrack the nerves and ruin a performance. This, however, did not seem to affect them even slightly. They went about their business without worrying about the type of crowd they faced and, in the end, won them over.

Jeff, with his mandolin and banjo, and Vida stood out in front of the Asbury crowd along with their stand-up bass player. Mole had played his against-the-grain solo acoustic set, and Balkey put forth some sensitivity in a similar format. Other artists on the bill included Jeff Gordon and Porn Snot. It was definitely a diverse line-up.

The duo played through their set without hesitation, as if any obstacle they faced on stage was just routine. Burke's fingers and emotions flew as he brought the crowd through a melodic journey with his clean mandolin and banjo solos. His style raises eyebrows with tastefulness, melody and feel, instead of flash.

These instruments are not something an Asbury rock crowd is used to seeing, but very common in New Orleans. "The most important influence New Orleans has had on us musically is the fun and freedom in the music," said singer/rhythm guitarist Vida Wakeman. "It is nice for us to always have lots of other styles around us that have influenced acoustic country. It's like hearing the roots and then going from there. I don't need to read a book on how Jimmie Rodgers was influenced by the blues and swing and Dixieland. You can hear it in most bars you walk into."

Instead of tweaking the sound system to their instrumentation, the group opted to play in front of the stage completely unplugged after their first song. They managed to win the crowd over early in their set. Wakeman controlled the crowd with the harsh yelp of her country voice and the facial and body animation in her stage presence. She sang each lyric like it was personally important to her, making it important to the crowd.

Their songs, many based on the heartache of the end of a relationship, are well-crafted with strong dynamics and hooks. "As far as the writing, we try to be simple and complete," said Wakeman. "Meaning that we try not to leave any loose ends in a song, with every word or sentiment there for a reason."

The simplistic delivery of their songs is refreshing. Wakeman and Burke blend emotion and melody well. The focus on and enthusiasm for their music is never lost for a second. Though their style differs from the standard New Orleans jazz or blues sound, they brought its feel with them when they traveled east. Burke, a former Flemington, New Jersey native, brought his band home with him, as he came in to visit his family for the holidays. They were booked to play New York's Bitter End the next night.

According to Wakeman, some road experiences find their way into her music and some don't. "I couldn't say any city has inspired our music or songs in particular," she said. "It's just the mood you're in that helps with the words and music. Since we've started touring a lot, it's been harder to find the time to sit down and write. But you get a lot of one-liners that you hope when you get home will work themselves out."

The duo worked in songs from their latest CD, "One Horse Town". One of those is "Road to Abeline," a dark cut about a woman's revenge on an ex-lover. The song's lyrics unfold like an old Western novel, ending with the passage: "We fought out on the roadside / and he took out a knife / I left him everything he owned / except that bastard's life." The group's lyrics do not shy away from any of the realities relationships may bring. Many create poetic mind pictures of America's small towns and the characters who live there.

The duo's sound grew from traditional country and bluegrass, adding the contemporary flavor it now has. "Initially, our sound was pretty true traditional," said Wakeman. "But, as our playing has improved we've been getting a little faster in some songs and deviating from the strict form to what we feel like playing. Not all are ballads anymore, as well as incorporating newer-sounding melodies that are probably pop influenced in the songs."

More information about Jeff and Vida can be found at their website, www.jeffandvida.com.

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