- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Leon Redbone sidesteps any questions about his age or background.”I try to maintain a low profile in the field of marginal entertainment,” says the veteran performer, who has some 11 record albums to his credit over the past 30 years.

Mr. Redbone, reportedly in his late 50s, has remained true to a timeless artistic vision that celebrates some of the almost forgotten songs of early 20th century — country, ragtime jazz and vaudeville.

For Mr. Redbone, it’s all about his music.

“At one time, that’s all there was,” he says, referring to a repertoire filled with songs from such writers as Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, Jimmie Rodgers, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer and Blind Blake.

“Not long ago, if you turned on the radio you would hear a Viennese waltz. It’s only unusual in today’s terms because there is such a fast turnover in music,” a phenomenon Mr. Redbone attributes to economic forces in the music industry he characterizes as “a desperate struggle that leaves behind tradition.”

“Am I getting too cynical?” he cracks. “It’s good for somebody, but it’s not good for music, I’m afraid.”

Mr. Redbone is about to release his first live recording, from a concert at the Olympia Theater in Paris in 1992. The disc will be first released in Europe. He toured briefly in England before heading back to the United States and concerts at the Birchmere in Alexandria Saturday and at the Rams Head in Annapolis on Sunday.

The guitarist often performs with cornet player Scott Black and pianist Paul Asaro. In 2003, he provided the voice of the animated snowman in the film “Elf,” performing the duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Zooey Deschanel.

His concerts are full of songs that sound like they were gleaned from scratchy old 78s.

Asked where he finds his selections, Mr. Redbone practically cackles: “I don’t have to find it; I haven’t lost it yet.”

“It’s not a fad concept with me. I was always interested in music,” says Mr. Redbone, who lists as his influences “everybody who is good — those anonymous, wonderful performers early in my life in cabarets. I was fortunate enough in my life to be there to hear them when they played.”

• • •

It already has been quite a year for Eliza Gilkyson. The Austin, Texas-based singer-songwriter earned new fans and acclaim with her politically edgy 2004 disc, “Land of Milk and Honey,” which was nominated for a Grammy this spring. Summer finds her performing in festivals all over North America.

The daughter of songwriter Terry Gilkyson, whose credits include folk-era standards “Greenfields” and “Marianne,” Miss Gilkyson recently finished her follow-up recording, “Paradise Hotel,” due out later this year on Red House Records.

Although it is still in production, Miss Gilkyson says she plans to sing some of the 10 new songs from the disc Sunday at Jammin’ Java in Vienna. Performing with Miss Gilkyson will be her son, percussionist Cisco Gilliland, and guitarist Mike Hardwick.

“I don’t want to feel like I have to have a theme for every record,” she says. “If you want to take inventory, if you want to have a social theme, especially for this time, it’s going to be so heavy.”

She does tackle the influence of the religious right in one of the new songs, “Man of God.” And “Requiem,” which she sings with her daughter, Delia Castillo, is a traditional hymn in reaction to the Dec. 26 Asian tsunami. Fellow Austin resident Shawn Colvin provides harmony on “Calm Before the Storm.” Another song, with lyrics in Spanish, draws its inspiration from Miss Gilkyson’s young granddaughter.

“It’s not a bad idea to have a few venerable voices in the market these days,” the 50-something Miss Gilkyson says. “There are certain things you don’t know until you’ve been there. I think that’s the payoff for aging, which I think is dramatic enough.”

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