My Dad got me interested in baseball when I was growing up (one month ‘til Spring Training by the way), and one of the things he pointed out that I appreciated was that as many ball games as there are every day and every season, if you watch one carefully you’re likely to witness some twist or situation you’ve never seen before. In seeming regularity, there is infinite variety and possibility, if you’re alert to it. And that was a salutary lesson for life in general.
Roots tends to be that way. We feature a consistent format of music with bands that tend to come with predictable instrumentation. But there’s always something novel and quirky and unique. This week it was a set by the delightful Kristin Andreassen that kicked off with voice, body percussion and bass clarinet. Never seen that before! Photographer Scarlati came up and whispered in my ear: “What’s that instrument??” and yeah, I knew because it’s my job to know. The bass clarinet is a long black wooden tube that looks like a clarinet on steroids in the middle and like an anemic saxophone at the top and bottom. It has a great throaty, low timbre and acted in the capable hands of musician Alec Spiegelman like a drone or organ sometimes and like a melody instrument at others. It was part of a night full of stories, country classics, rhinestones and virtuosity on the old Factory floor.
Chip Taylor kicked off the proceedings, starting and ending with our favorite “things” – “The Real Thing” and “Wild Thing” respectively. In between was where the set lit up for me, because I’m always eager to hear new Chip Taylor material. He’s bringing the wisdom of age and experience to his work, as the rapturous reviews of his new “Little Prayers Trilogy” album attest. “Trying To Let The Angles Know” was wistful and tender. “Track 224” was an easy blues inspired by an overheard lovers’ quarrel. Throughout, Chip’s presence (supported by John Platania’s deft guitar and Ron Eoff on bass) was reassuring, beatific and serene.
The segue from Chip into Kristin Andreassen was folk gold. She not only brought the inventive instrumentation (there were also a fiddler and acoustic guitar player arrayed around a single mic), she brought shimmering, breezy vocals and wildly interesting melodies. Her clean, malleable tone reminded me of her colleagues and friends Aoife O’Donovan and Ruth Ungar. But the songs were as personal as a signature. “Daybreak” had a sweeping quality in a minor key with complex three-part harmony vocals. “’Simmon” was a lilting waltz with gorgeous language. And the set concluded with a song that’s been very good to Kristin, with big prizes and multiple cover versions. I’ve heard it but can’t quite place where – perhaps Uncle Earl at Merlefest. “Crayola Doesn’t Make A Color For Your Eyes” is brisk and super rhythmic with an infectious groove and scintillating wordplay that makes color a verbal, visual playground. All wrapped in a love song.
Our next act, The Malpass Brothers, have internalized vocal ideas from Faron Young and the Louvin Brothers, rhythmic lessons from Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Three and hair concepts from Conway Twitty in the pompadour and sideburns era. Dang. In their mid twenties, they’ve honed their throwback vision to a polished shine and they offered a string of satisfying classic country covers while fronting a four-piece band of seasoned veteran musicians who wore black outfits with red kerchiefs. Hank songs sounded Hank-ish. Cash’s “Luther Played The Boogie” felt Cash-y in the hands of brother Christopher. I was really impressed by brother Taylor’s vocal on “Hello Walls,” in which he channeled Faron Young. The only did one original – a sentimental ode to Cash – but we’d sure like to hear more. I’m sure they have more to add to the country canon than the magnificent mimicry we saw on Wednesday night.
Catching Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver is like sliding into the booth at your favorite home town restaurant and ordering the comfort food that’s sustained you for years – provided the kitchen isn’t coasting. As many years as Doyle’s been at it, no moment on stage is anything less than focused, intense and deliberate. He is the consummate professional. “Roll Big River” was swift like the body of water in its name. “I’d Just Be Fool Enough” was luscious with cooing laments in stacked harmony. “Big Eight Wheeler” was quintessential DLQ with its banjo overdrive and Doyle’s mandolin chop. They left us sanctified and satisfied with an a cappella gospel number, their specialty even among their many other skills.
Guest host Peter Cooper pulled out the cathartic “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” for the Nashville Jam, because it served as a prayer for the spirit of dear Dixie Hall who passed on this week. Peter remarked beautifully on her personal grace and her astounding output of bluegrass and country songs. They, like the music and spirit of this week’s show, were among our among the things we can’t live without.