From Near And Far – MCR 7.15.15

We’ve always maintained a global outlook at MCR, and sometimes interesting and unexpected media or music folks from faraway places drop in on us to ask questions. Yesterday it was a four-person delegation from Korean Broadcasting System’s Radio 2, including producer Mi-Gyung Seo and her translator/interviewer Dan Kim. They asked if they could sit down and get an overview of what we do, and Dan turned out to be particularly well-informed about folk music and the paradoxes of perpetuating authentic folk culture in the modern world. We had a truly fascinating conversation, and part of the upshot for me was to recognize that however disadvantaged and patchy American roots music is in our culture, we in the USA should be grateful that we HAD a folk revival in the 50s and 60s and that it never really went away.

That was my personal opening act for a night at the Factory that was actually pretty darned American, with Nashville artists from the new school and the old, plus a visiting band from upstate New York that pretty much rocked our folky world. That would be Mike + Ruthy, who ignited the night with the floaty and life-embracing “Bright As You Can,” which is the title track of their new album. Natural tones and consummate musicianship just flowed from this five-piece band (organ, mellow electric bass and drums plus the front duo on guitar and fiddle respectively) through six perfectly paced and enlightening songs. My favorites were the rolling, upbeat road song “What Are We Waiting For” and the closing ballad (a well-earned encore), where Ruthy’s rich, dynamic and complex voice was most vividly on display.

Amelia White is musical comfort food for me, coming from that classic place between singer/songwriter, jangle pop and country that comes for the beating heart of the Americana format. I’ve been a fan for years. Her voice is plaintive and real, and her songs each have some fascinating crystalline shape that invites close attention and touch. I loved the brisk snappy mood of opener “Daddy Run” and the half desperate, tempted to the breaking point quality of “Dangerous Angel.” Really sharp was a new song with the really very funny and true observation about the ubiquity of gossip: “dogs bark; people talk.” She brought a razor sharp band that included not just one banging country-plus guitarist (Sergio Webb) but another (John Jackson) who dazzled on frets and slide respectively.

The rock and roll factor rolled up a bit higher with Reno Bo and his snappy combo from Guitar Town, which was basically Steelism backing him up, and if you don’t know Steelism you don’t know Nashville circa 2015. With Spencer Cullum’s pedal steel drenching the music in keening blue tones and Jeremy Fetzer’s Telecaster chiming leads over Reno’s power strokes, they achieved a pure fusion of British invasion rock and American alt-twang. The tune “And I Know She Did” was a sunny summertime jam with a big build through the chorus. “Sleeping Sun” featured a nice twin guitar lead between Fetzer and Bo. Nothing wasted. Everything counted. If they were buildings, Bo’s songs would be LEED certified.

We owe Ronnie McDowell a bit of an apology for some relatively rare staging flubs, not only on the front of his set (his vocal mic got patched wrong and when he sang nothing came out) but the end too, when we missed the final cue and left him hanging a bit before the jam. Just a wee reminder that yep, we’re live and we do make mistakes, just usually not two with one guy! Sorry dude. Anyway, the music in between, while not my thing, made the audience smile and threw us back to country radio in the 1980s with a side trip to Branson, MO. Fine musicianship all around though, and it was heartening to see Ronnie’s grandson – just a kid – playing congas with the band. And there was nothing but the honey going on in the Nashville Jam. Ronnie suggested “Johnny B. Goode” and the guitar players up on stage channeled Chuck Berry beautifully while all the singers took turns on the speedy, tricky verses.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am really craving some bulgogi and kimchi.

Craig H.

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