Janine Nichols used to be on the organizing side of concerts. Now she's a performer, singing in dimly lit tones reminiscent of a more supple, less damaged Marianne Faithful.
Nichols, who will perform Saturday at Upper Jay's Recovery Lounge with her band Semi-Free, has been deeply steeped in New York City's hip set for more than 35 years. She was music coordinator for "Saturday Night Live" in the late 1970s, then program director for the Brooklyn concert series Arts at St. Ann's (which, on its 10th anniversary, was called "the guiding light in New York's avant-rock scene" by Rolling Stone magazine), then joined Hal Willner in co-directing themed concerts and albums, including tributes to Shel Silverstein, Leonard Cohen, Tim Buckley, Neil Young and pirates (yes, pirates, on the 2009 concert and album, "Rogues Gallery").
Semi-Free's six-song CD, "First Ones," demonstrates Nichols' dark yet affectionate phrasing and lyric-writing, influenced by jazz, early '70s singer-songwriters and the late '70s New York City underground. Though she may not have been writing lyrics for four decades, her vocation for that span has been to listen backstage to some of the best pop poets out there. She ranges from confessional to glib, whimsical to grim, ironic to romantic, and always thoughtful.
For instance, in "Do as I Do":
"Just do it my way, your turn on the highway will soon come one day. Fasten your seatbelt; this is heartfelt. ...
"But you, you'll do what's right. But first, you'll put up a fight. When will you see the light? When wasn't I right? That once - alright. ...
If you go ...
Who: Janine Nichols' Semi-Free
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, July 14
Where: Recovery Lounge, state Route 9N at Springfield Road, Upper Jay
How much: $10 suggested donation
"You will ask, ask, ask for what's yours because you can't, can't, can't be too sure, because the past is like the future: It isn't past, and it doesn't last."
Complementing her are bandmates guitarist Brandon Ross and violinist Charlie Burnham, both of whom were arrangers and performers in Cassandra Wilson's band during the jazz singer's rise to prominence.
Adorning Semi-Free's website (www.semi-free.com) are laudatory quotes from Nick Cave, Linda Thompson and Lou Reed, showing the kind of musical artists in Nichols' social circle.
Even more revealing is a June 26 blog entry:
"Last night someone broke the window of my car and stole the wicker basket full of cassettes on the back seat. My irreplaceable cassettes! My only copy of Marianne Faithfull and the Orch of St. Luke's performing the Brecht/Weill masterpiece, The Seven Deadly Sins, a show I produced with Hal Willner for Arts at St. Ann's ca. 1990. My Robin Holcomb cassettes. The reggae trance mix made for me by David Silver. I hope not the Willie Dixon mixtape (maybe it's still in the bucket seat console); I've been playing that one a lot lately. Jr. Walker & the All-Stars greatest hits. 'Good Stuff from 1983,' made for me by Andy Mertha, now a prof at Cornell. Ella and Louie. What explains it? Was the lid down, and they just had to see what was within? Did they throw it in the trash nearby? I checked a 3 block radius..... Fie! Fie!"