This recording documents one performance one night, at a house concert. A house concert is simply a concert in someone's home, instead of a traditional venue. The performance was totally acoustic with no amplification. Editing was done strictly to make it fit onto a single CD. A few songs and a few stories were left off, but much of the talking was left in, as were some fairly rough moments. The sequence was left as it happened, with the exceptions of the parts edited out. Catherine and I both feel that what is included here really puts the listener "in the room," which is all we can hope for because we were there and it was extremely moving. Bryce Taylor, our house concert host, really did a great job of recording the concert with five microphones and a direct line from the guitar, without anyone really noticing it was being recorded, including Catherine and I. (If we'd noticed at all, it would have ruined it.) The folks in the audience really brought a lot of heart to this night, singing along and REALLY LISTENING.
"In his earliest days, Westchester County troubadour Fred Gillen Jr. was just one more singer-songwriter hawking his wares to anyone who might pause long enough to listen. But somewhere along the way he got politicized; he tamed the rock ’n’ roll wildness; and he became an old-school folksinger, bringing music to the people instead of hoping for the people to come to him. Live in the Heartland of America is exactly what its title says, a simple document, recorded—bravely—at a Muncie, Indiana, house concert. Gillen’s voice intertwines not only with Catherine Miles’s gorgeous natural instrument but also with the shared voices of the attendees, a couple dozen Hoosiers. The results are raw and ringing.
“Devil’s Bluff” is painfully intimate; the song holds you in its hand while you hold it in yours. “We will shine,” the pair sings, “and hope that it’s enough.” It is. Elsewhere, Gillen unfortunately veers from his own catalog to roll out hoary, predictable chestnuts from Phil Ochs (“When I’m Gone”), Bob Dylan (“Forever Young”), Elizabeth Cotten (“Freight Train”), and Johnny Cash by way of June Carter (“Ring of Fire”). This recording is most definitely a warts-and-all affair, right down to the knee-to-knee banter and sketchy harmonica breaks. Little of the chatter will hold up to repeated listening, but the best songs, like “Bluff,” “Don’t Give Up the Ghost,” and Abbie Gardner’s “I’d Rather Be,” certainly will.
—Michael Eck, Chronogram Magazine, February 28, 2012