Angela Easterling says that to beguile means to charm or enchant, sometimes in a deceptive way. Hmm. I didn’t see anybody trying to mislead anyone else last night, but a lot of folks were certainly beguiled by the five enchanting women who took the stage and offered five utterly different ways to invest songs with beauty. My wife and daughter and mom-in-law were in the crowd at the Loveless last night, so you know where my heart lies, but just between us, the presence and talent of all those starlets left me a little dizzy. Frontier Ruckus, I love ya, but it wasn’t the same.
Amanda Shires had openers, sharing the stage with her long-time companion Rod Picott; they make a very cool pair. He massages an old Gibson. She sings and fiddles. And fiddles hurt, like those Tour de France bikers. She smashed a finger on her note-making hand just weeks ago and she sported a stunning scar from where surgeons put in pins. And yet she made the gig. That’s just exceptional. As were the songs. “Swimmer” has a hypnotic whistled theme and a woozy, lonesome melody. “Shake the Walls” is brazenly sexy. “When You Need A Train” flips the idea of a train song on its head, brilliantly.
Natasha Borzilova is a fascinating young artist. Russian-born and a veteran of some serious touring and attention as part of Bering Strait, she writes songs that defy conventions and turn unexpected corners. And if that doesn’t keep your attention, her big round and expressive voice will. “Balancing Act” was a highlight. Then it was on to Angela Easterling whose album title and band name gives us the theme for our sermon. The Beguilers laid it down acoustically and electrically, as Angela moved from the perky, grassy “Happy Song” through some serious-minded folk and into the refreshingly rocking “Two Clouds” and “Group Self-Deception,” a speedy near-rap of a country song that lets no lie or liar go unnoticed. Angela keeps finding new ideas and new gifts and it’s a pleasure to hear her evolve.
Now we love all our kids equally and we don’t play faves but I must tell you I was not the only one who detected spooky star potential in Athens, GA’s Lera Lynn. With a literally lyrical name (somebody must have intended for her to be a country singer) and a cool retro nonchalance, she comes with built in stage presence. And then the songs. My word. It was all nerve exposing candor and delicious melodies, built into arrangements that really go somewhere. The big double-time chorus of “Gasoline” was thrilling, as was her dark and brooding cover of “Ring of Fire.” How relatable is she? My 12-year-old, five-months-in-America Chinese daughter who pre-declared boredom at the whole idea of a night at Roots shyly asked after the show if she could meet Lera and get a picture. “I like your song!” she told her in her newly acquired language. Breakthrough! She listened! She agrees with Baba about something! I was so proud.
We knew in advance we’d love our final two acts of the music-packed night, but we didn’t know exactly how. Tara Nevins brought a touch of the grooves and song sense that she invests in her long-time band Donna the Buffalo, but as she said in her interview, her solo stuff is more acoustic and down home. She and her old friends The Heartbeats knocked out some great old-time fiddle tunes and a massively re-imagined take on “Stars Fell On Alabama.” It was more than enough incentive I hope to pick up her new Wood & Stone CD, which sums up everything I love about Americana music. Finally, we got a return visit from Frontier Ruckus, that very hip and poetic band from Michigan that pairs a bowed saw against a banjo, a trumpet up with a harmonica, and a crack rhythm section with Matt Milia’s lyrical folk flow. They played a great set, climaxing with the tempo and mood-shifting “Adirondack Amish Hour” to close.
The Loveless Jam? A late night ramble rendition of Hank’s “Honky Tonkin’” that sounded like a call to arms for the rest of the night. Alas, I’m old and didn’t go honky tonkin’ around this town. I went home happy and beguiled.