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Birthday Blues 6.14.17

One’s affection for music shifts over the years I think from a rapturous, new-romance phase as a young person to a kind of gratitude and spiritual solace in the second half of life. Now, I only turned 51 on this week’s Flag Day show day so hey, maybe I’m not halfway home yet, but I respect probabilities so, you know… For years I’ve mostly regarded my birthday as a sobering semi-event; I can think of several times each year I’m more inclined to happy dancing. But a lot of nice love and friendship does flow one’s way in the social media era, and one needs to be mindful of blessings at times like this, and I have many. That said, music is my anchor and my scripture, and while every week at Roots is a joy, this week’s hearty blues and passionate songwriting felt especially cathartic.

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Nashville’s Adrian and Meredith brought a zesty vintage swing to their opening song “Take A Boat.” Backed by acoustic bass and drums, his acoustic guitar and her fiddle made a punchy, downstroking sound. He sings with a raspy croon, and she offers more mellifluous harmony lines. Their married couplehood translates to a nice energy and connectedness on stage. “Trainspotting” was straight up gangster gypsy, while the finale “Old Midwestern Home” was more moody and flowing, a nice contrast to the stomping pulse of the set.

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Sean McConnell opened with an incredibly helpful song that clearly laid out who he is and where he came from. “Queen of St. Mary’s Choir” was a tribute to his parents and an autobiography in song, tracking his passion for music from Massachusetts to Atlanta to Nashville. This set was one of most complete, well-written, well-sung and well paced we’ve seen in ages. With just an acoustic guitar, Sean showed why he’s been able to open solo for the Allman Brothers and Zac Brown. He dominated the room in the gentlest way. He absolutely soars as a vocalist and his songs are piercing, accessible, elegant. I thought a couple times of Patty Griffin. You’ll be hearing Sean’s songs for years sung by him and by others and think we all saw a star in the making. The audience was as moved as I was and showed it with a roaring standing O.

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The second half of the show was dominated by the blues but blues that came in numerous forms and feels and subgenres, changing from song to song in the sets by Mark Robinson and Walter Wolfman Washington. Robinson is a working class local hero who in mid life quit his job to play the guitar and then titled his first album “Quit Your Job. Play Guitar.” And he does it so well, pulling beefy tone and nice lyrical ideas out of his axe. He writes darn good songs too, some with classic shuffles and some with harder edges, like the ZZ Top sounding “Drive Real Fast.” Set closer “I Wouldn’t Lay My Guitar Down” sounded like a sequel to his debut album title AND like a nod to Chuck Berry.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from Walter Wolfman Washington. He’s not recorded new material in quite some time and his career has been all over the place. New Orleans R&B was a given but what flavor? What spin? The jazz chords he stroked to open his set were a clue. Then the rock steady riff he set up as the band joined in fleshed out a hearty and sophisticated sound. Walter played tastefully but with power and sang in a low, seasoned voice. The two man horn section was spot on. The songs had interesting arrangements that went places. This was Americana the beautiful. And it set up a particularly joyful and exciting jam on “Every Day I Have The Blues,” where Peter Cooper and Washington did a great job making a big old gang of musicians sound coherent. The clogging solo by Meredith was a bonus.

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