Electric Lady with the Acoustic Soul

Claudia Jacobs, who started writing songs around the time she was making out with her Cat Stevens album cover in junior high, has a lot going on these days. In addition to handling all-things Woodlands Folk Festival, Jacobs fronts the Claudia Jacobs Band. But she earned her chops flying strictly solo early on. The Northport native gigged for nearly a decade in Greenwich Village with just an acoustic guitar, a Joni meets Norah voice and a sack full of confessional songs. Explaining her current love affair with her band she said, “I think I got a little lonely. [The band] allows me to do a funkier, N’awlinsy vibe, which is stuff that I love.”

The singer-songwriter is pretty much the same onstage as off. There is the crunched brow of someone who goes deep, but just as often the grin of a prankster. Filling the quiet between songs at an intimate house concert in Patchogue and during the subsequent interview, she not only discussed her musical inspirations, but she also razzed everything from homophobia to performing with trombone spittle on the stage. “I listen to comedy…My ADD doesn’t allow me to listen to books on CD,” she cracked, referring to rare downtime when not possessed by song or planning the festival. Belting out killer folk-jazz and rootsy blues seems to be the one thing reserved for the stage alone.

In the last few years, the Claudia Jacobs Band has produced a vibrant brand of Americana by continually experimenting with hybrids of blues, jazz and folk. With Jacob’s steaming voice as the unshakeable center, there is a full-balanced attack with potent soloing coming from piano, accordion, guitar or tuba. Dan Weymouth (piano, accordion, background vocals) and Greg Galluccio (guitar, background vocals) round out the group’s core. Brass, bass and drums are covered by an extended family of musicians.

Over the course of the band’s two CD, Makin’ Lemonade in 2008 and the 2012 Rally On!, the musical temperature runs from piping hot gumbo to refreshingly cool after-hours lounge. “My CDs so far have been pretty eclectic. It’s not an intentional thing,” she said. Jacobs’ songs can be straight up heavy or tongue-in–cheek reminders to let go and have fun. “Back Down from the Mountain,” is a story of the vicarious pain Jacobs felt while viewing the murderous-brand of homophobia depicted in the film Brokeback Mountain. “It just drives me fucking crazy when people think that they’re better than others or that they have the right to judge people different from them. It numbs me,” she said, in solidarity with the tortured leads of the movie. The acoustic number begins with a simple Stephen Stills-like guitar riff and ends in a wide-bodied hymn. When asked if the slinky Pink Panther-like jazz vamp, “C’mon Sunshine,” is both a playful reminder to not give life’s inevitable ups and downs undue power and perhaps something kinkier, she answered in vintage Jacobs style, “‘C’mon Sunshine,” much like me, is to the point…It is what you say, a song about keeping your head above water, looking forward to brighter days… And yeah, it does encourage women to take care of things themselves instead of waiting around for someone else to do it for them.” She confirmed more directly with the gentle chide, “What a male thing to think of female masturbation as kinky, Oy!”

At the house concert Jacobs not only brought the musical heat, but she also goofed on her band-mates’ exaggerated rock moves and returned every friendly zinger the small audience threw at her with a cackle and an additional salvo. “I love people…my concerts are like hanging out with friends in my living room, I say what I feel, mean what I say and am happy to be there with them, no hierarchy,” she said. The music’s authenticity has garnered airplay on WFUV and gigs for Jacobs opening for Judy Collins and the late Richie Havens. “I feel particularly fortunate… being a mom of three kids, I just didn’t get out much beyond my gigs to network and hang like many artists do,” she said.

The Woodlands Folk Festival, now going into its fourth year, places the former theater major into the seemingly natural role of ringmaster. Jacobs partnered with the United Unitarian Fellowship of Stony Brook (UUFSB) in creating the one-day music binge. “Woodlands is the little festival with a big heart. My vision for it was to create a happening where people of all ages could come and fill-up on great music, great vibe and icy cold beer and have one of those days where you just feel complete and total contentment!”

michael block

When roused from his frequent reveries featuring himself as a Beatle, Mike Block is happy to resume his daily pursuits of providing occupational therapy for children with disabilities at Eastern Suffolk Boces and writing about the local music scene for Long Island Pulse magazine.