Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino – aka Magpie – have been making music together for nearly 40 years, but unless you were a dyed-in-the-wool folk music aficionado, you might never have heard of them. In a way, that’s too bad.
Their vocal harmonies are tight and well constructed and they play a small multitude of instruments. When they get up on stage, the first thing they want to do is engage the listeners, seeking a connection that they can foster until it blooms in a “Kumbayah” moment with the audience that includes singing along with the performers.
They’re part of that rebel stream of American folk music whose core musical deities are Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, the Weavers and Phil Ochs, singers whose commitment to social justice was strong and sturdy. As such, Artzner and Leonino have written songs about the environment, class struggle and love, and sung these tunes all over the world in addition to covering material created by other like-minded souls.
At Saturday night’s concert sponsored by the Buffalo Friends of Folk Music, Magpie began with Leonino singing a 1930s-era pop ditty called “An Evening in Carolina” that was made famous (back in the day) by the Boswell Sisters. Later on they revisited the Boswell repertoire for “Me Minus You.”
Other than that, it was an evening of self-penned works and covers written by Woody Guthrie (“Mean Talking Blues,” about a union buster), Brian Bowers (“Friend For Life,” about songs that stick with you) and Michael Smith (“Princess and the Frog,” a twisted fairytale).
Leonino is a marvelous harmonica player in addition to doing a great job on mandolin and guitar, and Artzner, her partner in life and music, is a steady guitarist.
The rapport they developed with the audience was quite remarkable but it should be noted that they were playing to a group of folks who were imminently susceptible to their charms.
Opening up for Magpie was a local bluegrass quartet called All Strings Considered, which featured former members of Dempsey Station – Craig Kellas, a former bluegrass program host on WBFO-FM, on mandolin, and Sue Galbraith on guitar.
They did a more than credible job within the context of a very short set.
Songs from the bluegrass canon, like “Footprints In the Snow” by Bill Monroe, fit well alongside paeans to a bygone age like “Engineers Don’t Wave From the Train Anymore” and “Room at the Top of the Stairs” and an instrumental showpiece called “Fireball Mail.”
The people behind the Buffalo Friends of Folk Music are all volunteers and they manage to keep putting together interesting programs featuring local and national talents.
Their next offering will feature Western New York’s Canal Street String Band and Greg Klyma, on Jan. 12.