Sometimes a good show is just a good show, and sometimes it’s therapy. It’s been tense in America lately, and on the way to the Factory this Wednesday, hearing reports of a Baltimore Orioles game in an empty, noiseless Camden Yards was a bit surreal and depressing. I lived in DC for four years and cheered Cal Ripken Jr. at that park more than a few times. I always really liked Baltimore, though I know how broken the city’s been for so long. I don’t mean to bring you down, but my heart goes out to all good people there and in all our cities where certain institutions need certain reforms. I’ll leave it at that and get on with the music, because music is the cathartic force we can all unite behind. And because, ha ha, Roots drew several hundred more fans than the Orioles.
Our people came out to see Miss Tess and the Talkbacks, who kicked off the night with “One Match Fire,” a brand new single that I took as a hopeful harbinger of more new music to come from an artist who knows how to write classic sounding material with swing and snap. And indeed there was later in the set, including the mid-tempo grinder called “Take You Break You Shake You” with some hot he/she guitar soloing between Tess and Telecaster whiz Thomas Bryan Eaton. I also admired “Do You Want My Love” with its soothing tempo and delicious chords. Tess told us that she’s recently moved to Nashville after years in Boston and Brooklyn. We certainly welcome her arrival.
The next two sets shifted gears hard. Emerging East Nashville songwriter Adrian Krygowski brought a fine, tricked out band that included the brilliant Paul Niehaus on pedal steel and Diego Vasquez on trombone, a combo one doesn’t hear frequently. Add Adrian’s fiancée Meredith Brown on fiddle and you had alt-country led by a former punk rocker with a voice a bit in the raspy direction of Tom Waits. It all came together best on the closer “More Than A Little” with a strong pulse from the fiddle and a stomping rhythm. Now imagine taking everything way way down to a single chair with a mild man with a fiddle, banjo and guitar at his fingertips. That was Frank Fairfield who gave a subtle and subdued performance of early American songs. “I’m Going To Weep No More” had a tricky fingerstyle banjo dynamic and a harmonic structure that was quite something. He strummed a delicate cowboy ballad and closed with the more familiar “Frankie & Johnny” again with dexterous banjo plucking.
The deepest catharsis though came from Gretchen Peters who is being more frank than ever in her songs about tragedy, violence and grief. “The only cure for the pain is the pain” she sang at one point. And yet with folk alchemy at work, tales of fratricide (“Blackbirds”), Post Traumatic Stress (“When All You Got Is A Hammer”) and the devastation of an out-of-control oil spill (“Black Ribbons”) filled my heart and felt gorgeous in my ears. Gretchen’s deliberate alto voice is world class and expressive. Her husband Barry Walsh kept the harmonic foundation strong on piano, accordion and vocals. Guitarist Doug Lancio brought his decorative, shimmering electric tones to the mix. You perhaps know already of my outsized admiration for Peters as a songwriter and artist. It felt fantastic to feature her again on our stage.
I’m out the door to take in this amazing, cool weather, and I’m trying not to let a minute of Spring go unappreciated. That was easy during the show. I certainly headed home feeling better than when I arrived.