Greg Stewart photo

Jack and Odetta, Stage Left 2 

Odetta Hartman Rocks the House at Rough Trade


Review and photos by Greg Stewart


Odetta Hartman and Jack Inslee take the stage under blue lights at Rough Trade in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Jack fills a long table with the gadgets necessary for electronic music production, a drum-pad and his Mac laptop with a smiling sticker on the back. Odetta stands in a sea of instruments  she will pick up and play masterfully throughout the performance. After a loving, comfortable introduction, the two begin an intertwining exchange of sounds.

Odetta’s voice echoes in ethereal vocalizations of beautiful lyricism while Jack takes liberties to fill the room with bassy reverberations that bring  to life a sense of the New York City electronic music scene; woven styles melt genres together with folk and dance at the crossroads. Jack’s impressive skill in his sampling, and the unbeatable musicality of Odetta’s voice and rhythmic strumming and plucking make the crowd bounce and sway. 

A certain dub style is scattered throughout the beats singing alongside Odetta. Jack’s inimitable mix of electronic modulation and beat-making with a folk singer like Odetta is an art in itself.

Batonebo was written by Odetta after workshops in Central Asian folk music. The word itself, batonebo, in Georgian culture signifies a disease  believed to be a spirit  that takes over the body of a young person. When diagnosed, the people of the village would gather and sing, hoping to expel the spirit, and the disease, from the body. Odetta has adapted this concept to speak about love. With the words resonating through the room; “You came in to my body like a spirit; so I have determined your proper name.” She wails out the syllables while Jack punctuates the screams with modulation and a complex beat. Odetta strums her guitar as she bounces with the music.

Batonebo leads into feedback while Odetta  masterfully strums along on a highly distorted guitar. From there she releases a punk expression of her lyrical stylings. From there, Jack plays an electro styling  reminiscent of 90s house, and Odetta sings platitudes such as “use it, don’t abuse it.”

The couple will be releasing their second collaborative album in the near future: Old Rock Hounds Never Die. The new album from the prolific duo leans a little heavier on Odetta’s folk/blues tradition  channeled from years of experience in the New York City scene that pulls from traditions established by the Guthrie’s, Bob Dylan, and many others.  It also pulls from the contemporary approach to punk and hard rock  influenced by Cage the Elephant and Jack White, set apart by beautiful lyrical construction and the get-down feeling that only Jack Inslee can bring to the table. The lovers’ eyes share that invisible, unspoken connection of sound; between them is a vibrant energy.  Odetta’s words ring beautifully true; “I wanna run to the edge of the earth with you,” which these two have quite literally done on their international tours.

Odetta provides a brief ethnomusicology lecture about the great mentors who helped cultivate her musical style. She sings Shove it Over, by Zora Neale Hurston. She gets the crowd to participate in a call and response orientation. They call back with a shackalackalackalacka UHH! The crowd claps along as Jack plays a rhythm on the 2 and 4, becoming ecstatic with the musicians’ infectious energy.

Odetta’s final song is a cover of “Old Man Trump” by Woody Guthrie. The song is about President Trump’s father Fred. It was written back in the ’50s when Guthrie lived in one of Trump’s apartment complexes. His words feel truer than ever.

I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate
He stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed that color line
Here at his Beach Haven Family Project

Beach Haven ain’t my home!
No, I just can’t pay this rent!
My money’s down the drain,
And my soul is badly bent!
Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower
Where no black folks come to roam,
No, no, Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!

Before her performance of this historic folk song, Odetta gave everyone a reminder about some of the big issues happening both domestically and globally. Kindly reminding us that Donald Trump is unfit to be president. She then gives everyone a brief history lesson about Trump’s apartment complex in south Brooklyn, only a few miles from the venue now occupied. 

Jack creates a crucial bass everyone can dance to while Odetta wistfully plays her banjo. The social message speaks to everyone in the room. Not a single person there seemed unaware of the commentary she was providing. Jack creates an echo for the banjo and emphasizes the lyrics that speak timelessly about the Trump Empire in America. We live in a time that will never be forgotten. The words Jack emphasizes most are home, trump, and ain’t. The crowd gives it up and goes wild over the end of this groundbreaking performance. Besides the melding of genres and the sheer musical talent that exists on the stage, Jack and Odetta pour out love into every room they enter.

Jack is from the same Long Island town as this writer. As a teenager, he built a recording studio in the basement of his mother’s house. With a rotation of rappers and beatmakers, Jack made 25 rap albums under the name Jack Knife by the time he graduated from high school. This passion followed him to college at New York University, where he  studied audio production. There he made more albums and participated in many projects which helped him hone his skills in the field. After he graduated from NYU, he was hired by Heritage Foods USA to create Heritage Radio Network. Heritage has been a pioneer in the world of animal rights and food production. Their mission is about preserving genetic diversity, small family farms, and a fully traceable food supply. Jack’s objective was to turn two storage containers into a podcasting studio that was attached to Roberta’s Pizzeria in Bushwick. He was also involved in the project to create a rooftop garden to supply food to the restaurant atop the station. He manned the station for many years before moving on to his current endeavor.

LINE Hotel in Washington D.C. invited Jack to do a very similar project; however, this time, he is building a radio station in the lobby of a hotel, instead of the backyard of a pizzeria. The station is named Full Service, after the DJ collective Jack started in Bushwick when he worked at Heritage. The Full Service collective has played shows in New York, D.C., Miami, and has been a staple at Bonnaroo for the past 5 years. The Full Service Radio project will launch  in the near future. An interview with Jack about the project can be found here.

Odetta grew up in Manhattan and attended the prolific 3rd Street Music School in the Lower East Side. Odetta has been playing music most of her life, released a folk album before working with Jack, and now works in a co-op kitchen project in D.C. She graduated from Bard University with a degree in American Studies.

The venue for this concert was Rough Trade in Williamsburg. It is located at 64 N 9th Street. The building has a large record store in the front, and a stage with a bar in the back. They are open from 11:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m. every day except Sunday when they close at 9 p.m. 

Jack and Odetta