Even with all of the cool country music fashion we’ve seen over the years, Jim Lauderdale’s Manuel suits included, nobody has ever made me drop my jaw and exclaim out loud like Ward Hayden’s Tex-Mex suit of flowers and jewels on Wednesday night. It was black with tightly embroidered vines and blooms and just covered like a mirror ball with rhinestones. He wore it well and led Girls Guns and Glory in a set that easily justified the audacious accouterments. It was one quarter of a night that delivered half bluegrass and half rocking country and 100% well written songs.
Newtown was a rebrand for the Katie Penn Band after she married Junior Williams and man, this union is more perfect from a singing point of view. She’s got the coo of her hero Alison Krauss and a bit of Dolly’s mountain blues. He’s like a Kentucky Buddy Miller, with a dusty punch. The songs tended to be in minor keys with hard drive from his banjo. That said, a drummer snuck on stage to lend extra crunch to the brilliant Lucinda Williams cover “Can’t Let Go.”
Becky Warren really stuck to the story of her War Surplus album offering an kind of condensed version of her country rock concept. “Call Me Sometime” has a winding, memorable riff and striking use of language. There was the plaintive and haunting “I Miss You” and she showed her humor in “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.”
It wasn’t just the bling. Girls Guns and Glory is a brash and enthralling band in the tradition of the Old 97s and Whiskeytown. Opener “Wine Went Bad” was one drinking song with the impact of three, though they did “Empty Bottle” later on. Set closer was a throbbing and ecstatic take on “What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding.” And the electric guitar, both comping and lead, by Cody Nilsen was just top notch throughout. Has he been written up by the guitar magazines? He should be.
The Gibson Brothers’ take on bluegrass is gentle, melodic and a touch romantic. New songs from In The Ground included the bright “Fool’s Hill” about the rewards of risk and “Highway” which had Eric singing extra high and lonesome, a la Del McCoury. “Signing As We Rise” was just classic gospel grass and so very nourishing. “My Quiet Mind” was a zengrass waltz (that’s a new genre, really) that found Leigh singing “It might take a lifetime trying to find my quiet mind.” I don’t know. The Gibson Brothers helped us find it pretty well.