Four Voices of Folk Entertain at Passim:

Janet Feld, Esther Friedman Shine in Local Spotlight

By Susie Davidson

Advocate Correspondent

CAMBRIDGE - It was one for the women at a sellout crowd last Wednesday night at Passim. Apparently, the word had spread that four singers of extraordinary merit were on the bill.

Co-performers and compadres as well, each a notable local talent in her own light, Janet Feld, Esther Friedman, Licia Sky and Ksenia Mack appeared under the moniker esther's Angels.

Angelic yes, but grounded as well, with all of life's foibles and frolics in evidence, the four shone collectively and individually in all the myriad sparkles and hues of the unpolished, unconstrained human persona. It was a taped-for-live-CD night to laugh, a night to nod in accord, a night to take in breathtaking vocals, skilled instrumentation and lithe tunes.

Janet Feld led off as all four took to the stage. 1999 Boston Music Award nominee for Best New Contemporary Folk Act, she's opened for all of folk's big names with her remarkable mix of poignant lyrics, vocal dexterity, keen strumming and utter hilarity. And Judaic tradition plays no small part underneath it all.

"My first rock concert," Janet relates, "was a trip with Temple Isaiah's youth group in Lexington to see Aerosmith at the Orpheum in 1973. I also babysat for the Rabbi from the 7th through the 10th grade."

She put her musical skills to use within the Jewish community from early on. "In 1987," she continues, "I was hired as a music specialist at the Jewish Community Center in Springfield, Mass. Starting in 1990, I was the pre-school music specialist and phys. ed. department secretary during the school year, and at camp in the summer. I worked there until I moved back to the Boston area in 1994.

"I also worked with Rabbi Mark Shapiro and Cantor Emily Mekler at Sinai Temple in Springfield, helping them prepare four consecutive classes for their Confirmation. I helped Emily teach song selections to the classes and accompanied them on guitar for the service."

Janet's community work continues today. "I've taught music at various Sunday Schools, and currently teach at the nursery school at New England Hebrew Academy in Brookline."

Back at Passim, Janet brought her friend Melanie Marcus' children Adam and Lilah of Milton up to the stage while she sang "For All Time", a beautifully melancholic tune about the effects of divorce on kids. They stood there proudly, and afterwards, Adam spoke of his upcoming April bar mitzvah and how he "composes random songs" himself, while Lilah conveyed her own Jewish experiences. The parenting skills of Melanie, who writes music with Janet and co-penned this one, seemed exemplary and lent much cadence to the stirring song.

Janet, a Somerville resident, works as an independent contractor for Integrated Rhythm and Noise, Inc. and Club Passim School of Music, where she teaches guitar. Her newest CD is called "Tick Tock World".

Cambridge's Esther Friedman (esther)'s light and airy vocals complement the diversity of her lyrics. At Passim on Wednesday, August 22, she sang of the raw and emotional depths of life, yet again, interspersed it all with humor. She was skilled, genuine and endearing. Her gorgeous "Moon Over the Water," about a past relationship in Gloucester, made a lasting impact with its vulnerable beauty.

A midwest transplant from Wisconsin and Ohio, esther has just released "Eve's Lament", her debut CD. She was a showcased artist at Fall 2000's Northeast Regional Folk Alliance and at First Night Boston.

"I grew up in a non-traditional family," esther says, "so beyond my name, Esther Ruth Friedman, I don't have many Judaic connections. My religious upbringing consisted of my Dad reading Biblical passages to us on Sunday mornings.

"My parents took me to orchestra concerts, the ballet, operas, art fairs etc. As a kid I took violin and ballet."

Her early experience was cosmopolitan. "We spent a year living in London where I was exposed to 'buskers'. I went to school there and we travelled around Europe in a tiny red car, the 4 kids crammed in the back seat."

The family moved to Cleveland when esther was 14, and here her musical craft began with guitar chords and songs. When esther came to Boston, she attended Lesley Colleges' Expressive Therapy Program, but her true interests were with the street performers in Harvard Square. She worked for five years in Human Services, "while honing vocal, guitar

and writing skills. I brought my songs to a producer in 1998. Released a CD in May 2001, and the rest is future."

Powerfully rounding out the show was the ultra-rich voiced, guitar thumping Licia Sky of Brookline, who belted out her lyrical portraits in fine form, and Ksenia Mack, who alternated between pitches and octaves and deft guitar maneuvers as she sang of "train wreck and robbery" love affairs and other pointed prognoses.

Equipment snags, lifely anecdotes and interpersonal relationships were laughed over through the evening in that manner of conviviality that is singer/songwriting. The audience consistently responded as the repartee evoked a giant living room - or, given the actuality, a basement den.

Relationships were the order of the night. OK, this is not everyone's cuppa chamomile, but these four talents gave it their all, and aimed to touch all wth the unspoken voice of the universal, womanly experience.

esther's Angels will rise again on Sunday, September 23 at the Kendall Cafe, Cambridge.