Flea market blues 

Caroline Aiken makes live recording, holds rummage sale

Tree Sound Studios, Jan. 11 -- Atlanta folk/blues guitar-slinger/songwriter Caroline Aiken needed two rooms of Tree Sound Studios to stage her strange, split-personality fundraiser. Facing a number of legal expenses that she'd rather not discuss, Aiken and a cast of familiar-faced Atlanta musicians used one room to record a live performance in front of fans. Meanwhile next door, friends sold off many of her personal items in a sprawling rummage sale reflecting Aiken's 30 years in the music business.

In the studio, longtime friends and fans settled in beside each other on the floor in silence as Aiken tuned up to play. Behind a microphone wrapped in scarves, Aiken sang a song she'd written for her daughter, Page Dukes. Free of sentimentality but full of feeling, it left no doubt that Aiken was singing from her heart. "Please drive like someone cares/Watch out when you're out there/And don't be a stranger, while you dazzle the world with your amazing grace," she sang, as Bobby Miller's pretty mandolin runs sweetened the melody.

On stage, Aiken projected an easy, leonine confidence. Surrounded on all sides by much taller men, the relatively tiny Aiken ran the show with both an iron hand and a gentle way with her fellow players. She presided lightly, smoothing egos invisibly to get the sound she wanted, every time. Saturday's backing musicians -- John Marsh of Deep Blue Sun, Mark Van Allen, Richie Jones, Allen Rodgers, Doug Peters, Ron Sumowski and Roger Brainard -- didn't stop playing until close to 5 a.m.

Aiken ordered second run-throughs of most songs. It was a sound decision on her part, since many of the musicians were just friends helping out, and not entirely familiar with her material. On the second takes, though, things tended to go smoother, the faint uncertainties disappearing.

"I just want to have two to pick from when it comes to the recording," Aiken explained, though no one had asked.

No one seemed to mind, either. Said one listener of the song repetitions, "It's just deja vu you can enjoy. It's like taking acid -- when she does it again, it's like I'm having a flashback."

Before long, the party started to roll. The room filled, and women with names like Ransom and Sugar and Harmony rose to dance with attendees from age 6 to 60. From then on, a constant smile affixed itself to Aiken's face.

Mandolin player Miller, pleased with his role in the unfolding scene, said, "She's just got this instinctive, natural mastery. It amazes me, that kind of unabashed, unbridled honesty. It's not that common."

Next door, in a quieter room marked "Caroline's Cave," piles of Aiken's stuff were up for sale. "You see this?" Aiken said. "This is my house here."

Walls were hung with embroidered quilts, their tiny inlaid mirrors winking back the Christmas lights strung up everywhere. Crates of jewelry covered table after table. Clothing racks sagged with disposable finery, her velvet, satin, lacy, hand-painted, floaty, glittering, brilliant, tie-dyed stage clothing, little of it distinguishable from her normal dress.

Jean jackets hung alongside curling and faded tour posters, in the intricate light patterns cast by many lanterns. Of particular interest were the era-spanning photographs of Aiken's life in music. Milk crates on the floor held shots of Aiken on stage with Mother's Finest, with Bonnie Raitt, with Indigo Girls, and often alone. Aiken in black and white, in color, in big blond '80s hair. As earnest earth mother, as West Coast beach baby, at 25, at 30, at 40.

One dusty 8-by-10 even pictured Aiken, hands to heaven in a backup gospel choir, behind Michael Bolton. "Yeah, no one really knows about that too much," said one rummager.

No one really knew many details about why Aiken was raising money, either, but clearly there was a serious need for her to be parting with so many mementos of her career in music.

Then again, not everyone had come with an interest in treasure hunting. One man, who gave his name only as Leprechaun, said, "I'm mostly just here for the love."

A recording of the evening's performance will be available soon through Aiken's website, www.carolineaiken.com.




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