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Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2006 04:40 am

Not just crying Woolf

Cindy Woolf performs with the Mark Bilyeu Band on Saturday

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From the opening harmonica run to its last acoustic-guitar strum, Cindy Woolf’s Simple and Few radiates a wholesome heart and a caring soul at work. Nothing is angry or rushed or too soothing or pushed, either; the album just seems to flow from an unending source of decency and goodness. “Most everything I do is inspired by my family in some way,” Woolf says. “My grandma was the most amazing person I ever knew.”
That heartfelt emotion, combined with a pleasant studio experience, provided the atmosphere for Woolf’s first full-length recording. “I had the best time of my life making this record,” she says. “I was almost sad when it was over.”
An Arkansas native who hung out on the Springfield, Mo., music scene, Woolf was living in Portland, Ore. when she received an invitation from Mark Bilyeu to record for his MayApple Records label. Bilyeu, best known as a member of Big Smith, a bluegrass/folk/rock sensation from the Missouri Ozarks, produced and performed on the CD. It all came together during a two-week period in Bilyeu’s home studio. “We kept it stripped down, and Cindy makes it easy,” he says. “Her voice cuts right through, and that allows us to put the instruments where we want.”
The folk musicians Woolf played with during her days in Springfield formed the nucleus of the studio group. “We just took all my songs and added a traditional bluegrass flavor,” she says. “It’s all my best friends playing on the record.” Bilyeu jokes that sales of the album, just released in January, are eclipsing those of his 2005 MayApple record First One Free. “I’m fully ready for the big show with ‘Cindy Woolf’ in large print and ‘Mark Bilyeu’ below it,” he says. “People who hear her CD are drawn into it.”
During the next few months, the two will be on tour, sharing a band that includes respected musicians Joe Terry and Bobby Lloyd Hicks, both of whom have played with Americana artists Dave Alvin and Robbie Fulks. Bilyeu expresses his delight in the nightly interplay with musicians of this caliber, but the more rock-oriented style is also a treat for Woolf, whose previous live-music experiences have involved traditional-style acoustic players. “I didn’t want to overdo the instrumentation, but everybody plays so tastefully,” she says. “It’s a different sound than the CD. It has lots more energy.”
Cindy Woolf performs with the Mark Bilyeu Band 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, at the Underground City Tavern, 700 E. Adams St.

Park, our hometown rock-band heroes, lead the way for other locals in scaling the rocky cliffs of treacherous Music Business Mountain. With any luck, the Damwell Betters, Park’s opening act for the Friday, Feb. 17, show at Underground City Tavern (700 E. Adams St., 217-789-1530) will get the opportunity to hike the rocky trail blazed by Park. For my money you will hear no better music in this town than that produced by Johnny Slu and the Too Few, featuring Billy Rogers and Terry Brennan. These consummate musicians perform classic jazz/swing/pop songs that surpass contributions in all genres and are just plain good. Enjoy Slu and the Few in a nonsmoking bar venue (they did it without governmental prodding) called the Caucus Room in the Inn at 835, on Second Street. Join me in welcoming a new addition to our ever-changing nightclub family as Pub Springfield (131 E. Jefferson St., 217-528-7821) sets up shop on the northwest corner of Jefferson and Second streets. The building has housed many bars over the years, including Impastato’s, Miss Kitty’s, St. Pat’s University Pub, and, most recently, Lucky’s. DJ Larry spins the tunes this Friday, you can hear the work of DJ John Stephens on Sunday, and Posamist plays on Saturday and hosts an open mic every Wednesday. Local favorites Sandbox 101 play the hits next Saturday, Feb. 24, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Bill Laymon, among other things, is Springfield’s most direct link to the Grateful Dead. Through his playing years with Jerry Garcia’s lifelong friend David Nelson to his close association with the San Francisco music scene, including the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Jefferson Airplane, and others, Laymon has seen a lot and done even more. Laymon performs Dead tunes, classic Dylan, ’60s pop, and original songs on Saturday, Feb. 18, at the already nonsmoking Sun’s Up Koffee Kafe (1001 N. First St., 217-522-5348). Bread Stretchers holds an all-ages get-together at 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, featuring locals Red Dress and traveling bands Crown Atlantic, Renae, and Think Thank Thunk. The Black Sheep Café (1320 S. 11th St.) is now officially opened as well, with a full schedule of live music every weekend and an open mic on Wednesdays. Please support your local all-ages shows by attending the event of your choice. Thank you.
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