by James M. Manheim
There's a certain mode of between-song folk-music patter that Small Potatoes, the Illinois duo of Jacquie Manning and Rich Prezioso, exemplifies to the hilt. Call it midwestern, or Keilloresque if you go out to hear folk music in Boston, the stories between the songs are always a bit more literary. These two like to tell funny stories that lead obliquely into serious songs.
Prezioso tells of seeing a 1968 Chevrolet Impala the model of car on which he learned to drive bearing a historic-vehicle license plate, and then sings of how time flies but he can't get off the ground. Small Potatoes performs songs by other Chicago-area songwriters in addition to its own: Michael Smith's lovely "Crazy Mary," a song about the final act of self-expression of an elderly neighborhood eccentric, is introduced with an account of a visit to a Toilet Seat Art Museum, a neighborhood folk-art effort the duo encountered on a trip to San Antonio.
Not that humor is neglected in the songs themselves. Manning's "Knott" "Think Abbott and Costello on Hee Haw," they say brings together the three daughters of the Knott's Berry Farm clan, Shirley, Mayella Beatrice (May Bea), and Wynona (Wy), for an encounter with a traveling salesman. Manning apologizes in advance for the song,
which has enough twists of preposterous puns to become worthy of its Bud-and-Lou inspiration.
But Small Potatoes never pushes the funny business too far. The songs veer with the naturalness of unforced conversation from comedy to "1000 Candles, 1000 Cranes," a song about an American woman
who lost two sons in World War II and ends up in an elder-care facility under the care of a Japanese nurse who survived the blast at Hiroshima as a girl. Manning makes a specialty of quizzical songs of random events "The Dollar Episode," in which a sequence of passersby pick a dollar bill up from a sidewalk and then throw it back,
or "Life Is an Accident." The duo's repertoire as a whole is something of an accident, too Prezioso told the Chicago Tribune that it was "the result of years of careful indecision." Various instruments make their appearance onstage, and Prezioso and Manning have done some real virtuoso songwriting; her "Waltz of the Wallflowers," a song that weaves together the interior monologues of two shy people finding their way to the dance floor, took a top prize at the Kerrville New Folk Songwriting Contest in Texas.
Small Potatoes comes to the Green Wood United Methodist Church Ann Arbor's current headquarters for bring-the-kids, have-a-brownie-and-kick-your-shoes-off, living-room-sing-along-style folk music on Friday, December 8.
[Review published December 2006]