Folk singers often try to one-up each other with obscure details and pastimes. No slouch in that regard, Kray Van Kirk, who will be playing our house concert series on Friday, May 19th, has not one but two obscure distinctions. First, he holds a Ph.D. in fisheries population dynamics modeling. If that’s not obscure enough, he does a spot-on impression of Japan’s nineteenth century blind swordsman, Zatoichi.
A fine finger-style guitarist with a precise baritone, Van Kirk obtained his doctorate from the University of Alaska. Coming off five years of living in his van and playing music across the US and Canada, he thought that a career in the sciences might be a bit more secure than playing music for a living, especially as a single parent. Eventually, however, he realized that healing the world was primarily a matter of the heart, not the head, and he put aside his computer, picked up his guitar, and set out again.
When Van Kirk reached Scotland and the prestigious Fringe Festival, the Daily Fringe Review wrote “The evening’s act was Kray Van Kirk, whose 12-string guitar and soaring vocals were spellbinding; the Alaskan singer-songwriter, in his Edinburgh debut, was not the reason I arrived early, but was certainly why I stayed late.”
Van Kirk, however, is not your average crying-in-your-coffee singer songwriter. “We need a renewal of myth and wonder and hope,” he says.
This is where the Zatoichi impression comes in handy. Shintaro Katsu played the blind but fictional wandering masseuse as a bumbling nobody in movies from 1962 to 1989. Prior to unleashing his unrivaled swordsmanship, he closes his eyes, cocks his head to one side and listens intently, as does Van Kirk. “We are driven by myth and the seasons of the heart. We need new stories and new myths so that everyone, absolutely everyone, regardless of creed, color, gender, sexuality or anything else, can listen and look and see themselves on the Hero’s Quest.”
Thus his songs: ‘Thunderbird’ resurrects the Phoenix in an empty desert diner in the American Southwest (yes, the Phoenix drives a Thunderbird), ‘The Queen of Elfland’ plucks Thomas the Rhymer from the English-Scottish border in 1250 and drops him and the Queen into a subway car, ‘The Library Song’ has Superman moonlighting as a librarian, and ‘The Midnight Commander’ celebrates an insane old man leading the city of New York to take up arms (and underwear) against hatred.
Of this charming, Quixotic, and decidedly eclectic performer, the Borderline Folk Club in New York wrote “it is what every singer-songwriter should aspire to.”