Soon after I set about wrapping up my interview with trumpet player and singer Joey Morant, I felt like I’d just hotwired a high performance automobile. One minute we were talking about stuff like his home town and the influence of Louis Armstrong, and I swear all I said was, “so are you ready to play?” and next thing I know Morant is working the crowd from the Roots chat room. “Everybody scream!” Scream! And he seems to telepathically launch the band into “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and I’m standing there with two cordless microphones thinking, “my work here is done.”
Yes, they don’t call him Mr. Entertainment for nothing. Joey Morant brought an old-school blues and jazz attack to our stage like we’ve never had. Wearing a sleek and shiny orange paisley sport coat and a gold tie, he led a Nashville all-star band and worked the crowd with every sing-along, clap-your-hands move in the catalog. In a lesser musician’s hands it would have felt forced, but he is a superb singer and he blows his horn with clarity and class. It was a joyous set. And it wasn’t even the show closer!
Yes, we had a wickedly great time at the Loveless as we closed out our Winter 2011 season with a three-plus hour, over-the-top shindig. We had some old friends back and some surprising newcomers. I think we saw our top Vietti artist of the season, but more of that in due time.
We were thrilled to have Jim Lauderdale back after a number of weeks away. Whenever he opens the show with “I Feel Like Singing Today” it makes me feel like singing today. Then we got things rolling with Jason Ringenberg, sans Scorchers, but with all the manic intensity he brings to Scorchers gigs, only focused through the guitar and his completely individual voice. And given a choice for how to start a multi-bill show, I’ll always go with the guy with the fur-collar red jacket and spangled black cowboy hat singing “Honky Tonk Maniac From Mars.” Because nothing less would do. I’m sorry.
In the Vietti slot we had the night’s wild card, and man they were wild! Hymn For Her is a duo that sounds like full band, thanks to their deft multi-tasking. The he in the couple played kick drum, high-hat, acoustic guitar or banjo and harmonica. She played an electrified cigar box guitar hooked up to a honking amplifier and played it like Jimmy Page, with sliding power riffs and awesome drones. Their duo voices were intense and well-matched. All three songs were great, but “Fiddlestix” was a tour de force, with an arrangement that really went somewhere and a pulsing backbeat that felt like the Delta on a sticky summer night. They earned a huge reaction, and well deserved.
John Francis came next, with a rich voice and a straight-up Americana sound. Bolstered by the bandmates from his recent Nashville-made album Kenny Vaughan (guitar), Dave Roe (bass), and Ken Coomer (drums), Francis offered very sharp songs, with refreshing emphasis on the lyrics. “Who” is a tasty mashup of wordplay and social awareness. Then the Vespers did a brief walk-on to announce the winner of this season’s house concert and preview a taste of what that concert will be like with performances of “Tell Your Mama” and “Got No Friends” in their awesome mixture of cute and intense. And the middle sets were rounded out by a return visit from Lissy Rosemont and the Junior League from Washington DC. She can sound like a lot of things, but last night it was country, deep and rich, from the old-timey to the pumping blues boogie.
That set the stage for our big final segment, which saw Joey Morant segue into Mike Farris. It was perhaps the most soulful and large hour of music we’ve ever seen on our stage. The cream of Nashville’s musicians backing up these stunning, involved front-guys. The McCrary Sisters backing up Mike with such bold colors and perfect perfect perfect harmonies. Morant showed his passion for all kinds of American music by jazzing up “Crazy” and “Jambalaya” along with blues standards like “Baby What You Want Me To Do.” He strolled the aisles playing his trumpet over a wireless mic, basically involving and thrilling everyone. Then Farris did his always remarkable thing, opening with “This Little Light of Mine,” a song that deserved a good adult dusting off. And he played a cover that I’ve not heard him do – Mary Gauthier’s “Mercy Now,” an award winning song from a few years ago that he says will be on his new album. The set started huge and got huger and finished hugest with “I’m On My Way To Heaven” with sweet Stax-y horns.
“Let It Be” everyone sang in the Loveless Jam finale, on a stage so crowded with wonderful musicians it was quite a sight to behold. If it could always be like that, we’d always let it be. See you in three weeks!