Last updateFri, 27 Feb 2015 4pm

Bubbly, versatile entertainer lays on the charm

Last week’s very different concerts by Jeffery Straker, in aid of Niños Incapacitados, were enormous fun and extremely well received. Audiences were even persuaded to join in, clapping in time and copying various sounds sung by Straker, which they did with gusto at Ajijic’s Auditorio de la Ribera.

On Thursday afternoon, I sat in on a rehearsal for Friday’s concert, “Niños para Niños,” featuring young students of the Centro Regional de Estudios Musicales (CREM) conducted by Director Emmanuel Medeles, accompanying Straker on piano.

CREM’s Orquesta Infantil rehearsed three Straker compositions:  “Birchbark Canoe,” “Fall From Grace” and “Oh God, I’m Cinderella,” followed by  “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” sung by the CREM Coro Infantil. It was great to see the children really engrossed, producing such beautiful music with obvious enjoyment.

Parents report that their youngsters were thrilled to be performing with Straker and playing pop music for the first time. Apparently careful selection of rehearsal clothes suddenly became crucial, as did practicing their music at home!

Straker is a unique combination of pianist, pop-folk singer, songwriter and showman. Bubbly and friendly, he was equally at ease talking to the crowd from the stage, or during intermission when he came out to meet members of his audience. 

Thursday’s “Simply Spectacular” concert was an intimate evening with Straker at the piano accompanied by Brodie Mohninger, the remarkably talented guitarist who tours with Jeffery and works on his albums. Nobody would have guessed from Mohninger’s exceptional performance just how ill this guitar wizard felt, cursed by “Montezuma’s Revenge.”

Introducing “Luck Ain’t Chasing Me” from his fifth album “North Star” (to be released March 10), Straker explained that he wrote it when he was feeling really sorry for himself after a burglary. All his electronics, including a laptop containing 60 new songs and both backups, were stolen so he had to start over from scratch. 

His perceptive lyrics are thought provoking and profound. Ever the storyteller, his songs are interspersed with anecdotes about people he’s met, such as |The Wonderful Mrs. Bell” whom he knew when growing up in Punnichy, Saskatchewan - population 300 - or reflect his own experiences. “Birchbark Canoe,” with its strong, haunting melody, was inspired by his impulse purchase of a huge paddle that, he said, would have been really useful if he only had a canoe. 

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