Laura Love Duo May 14, 2008
By Glen Creason
In the fine tradition of the Sierra Nights’ series musical exploration, the Cerritos Center welcomed the unique and tremendously talented Laura Love duo to the cozy hall on Wednesday evening. Thus, adding one more name to the list of superb artists laboring in relative obscurity who have been brought to light in the small venue here. Ms. Love and her partner Orville Johnson gave the very responsive house a fine show, full of traditional and inspirational tunes polished delightfully by her unique voice melded with Johnson’s great skills on the guitar to create what seemed like brand new discoveries. At this show the pair came forward without much fanfare on a rather bare stage; just the big, white-maned gent and energetic African-American woman with a bass and acoustic guitar, bringing along a big satchel full of great songs.
With extraordinary charm and that mercurial voice Love can take an old chestnut like the curtain raising “the Cuckoo” and give insight and hope. You might say the last stanza pretty much described her attitude when it says, “she brings us glad tidings and tells us no lies.” That first half of the concert contained a sweet mix of traditional, spiritual and tunes that figured prominently in the civil rights movement. The old-timey ones sparkled with the electronic infusion including “Cotton Eyed Joe, “ “Ruby,” “Paul and Silas (Keep Your Eyes on the Prize) “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “I’m Working on the Building,” and a truly swinging “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” that showcased both Orville’s slide and Love’s soaring vocals. The real standout in this hour was the powerful “We Shall Not Be Moved” which managed to feel optimistic while it represented so much courage and suffering from when it was sung in places like Selma and Oxford in the 1960’s. Laura Love represents that tradition of brave civil disobedience but she is smiling as she sings. This is a wonderfully life-affirming artist who has seen the worst of it but will not be defeated. The second half was more eclectic but no less potent in theme. “Saskatchewan” tells the story of her family, former slaves leaving Texas and heading for Canada, only to settle down in Laura Love’s native Nebraska. “More Than a Hammer,” “Living in a Dream” and one of the best versions you will ever hear of “Shady Grove” made for fine listening but Love’s jocular send up of Elizabeth Cotton’s “Everything I Got is Done Gone and Pawned” and Johnson’s “Somewhere Listening” were as good singing and songwriting as you will hear anytime, anywhere. There was more including the crackling “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” which you might not want to play for your kids and the finale of the ever-optimistic “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” which is exactly what the roomful of folks did on this fine night at Cerritos. Even though Laura Love has performed and recorded hundreds of songs, appeared with the best and the brightest and achieved high status amongst folk musicians she chooses to sing the material that comes from her heart and still is not a household name. She really should be, judging by this show.