If loving heathens is wrong, I don’t want to be right. One rarely hears such a powerful, gimmick-free rock and roll band with such evenly distributed talent as the Band of Heathens, who played Music City Roots last night.
Like The Band or Little Feat (common comparisons last night), B of H from Austin feels like a complete operation, a total integration of visions and voices. Guitarists Colin Brooks and Gordy Quist and keyboardist Ed Jurdi all write and sing and yet nobody dominates the stage or the ideas. The music is soulful Americana without baggage, colored with electric lap steel and churchy, grungy electric piano. In a word, brilliant. Wish they’d had hours to play.
And that was just the opening act of a wonderfully balanced night that featured the acoustic and the electric, the sweet and the edgy, the traditional and the revisionist. Our Vietti newcomers was the Apache Relay from Nashville. Their debut album is warm and acoustic and shambling. Their show is loud and acoustic and intense. There was foot-stomping and sweating, and methinks leader Michael Ford Jr. has been imagining what it would feel like if Robert Plant fronted a slam-grass band. We should be hearing more about this gritty band of dudes.
Then it was time for a nice downshift to the gather-round bluegrass of the Gibson Brothers. I’ve long been a fan of their twin-voiced classic attack and their finely crafted songs. When Eric and Leigh sing “it’s a red-letter day for the blues,” it makes you want to stay for the full story. They’ve seemed like a young act for so long, but now they’re stalwarts of the genre, playing genuine, pedigreed bluegrass in a music-scape full of hybrids and experiments.
The biggest audience surprise of the night I think it’s safe to say came from St. Louis based Pokey LaFarge whose old-time jazz and blues band enthralled and entertained. Whether with washboard and kazoo or pile-driving swing or tastey guitar solos, they got it done, and were rewarded with a standing ovation. Way to throw down Pokey.
And finally Cadillac Sky yanked us all from the past to the future, offering up five or so songs from their upcoming album Letters In The Deep, where a one-time almost bluegrass band takes its own path entirely. The songs pulse here, soar there, shred sometimes. The vocal blend takes a step away from the high lonesome and toward the falsetto serenity of My Morning Jacket. The five guys who’ve shaped this very original and visionary band play together like they’re in it for themselves, hoping the audience loves it, rather than the other way round. And I’ve got no problem with that. When it’s right, it’s right.
It should be right on next week too, as we close out our winter season (yay) with an Irish-centric night featuring Maura O’Connell and Alison Brown. Come be with us.