I want to start off this morning’s report with an apology and explanation to our fans who came to the Loveless Barn last night. For the first time that I can recall, the show was just too loud. Not glaringly so. It snuck up on us. The early acts were spare, but as we got into the Allen Thompson Band and especially our fabulous closer My Name Is John Michael, I realized my ears and head were just worn out. I had to step outside to recover, and others began telling me the same thing. And by then it was kind of too late. A lot of folks left early, and I’m certain that for many, it was because of the volume. Our A-Team front of house sound guy Danny, who is as good as they come, was off, and the new guy I think didn’t grasp how different we are than the typical hall or arena show. The sound felt compressed and hard instead of inviting and warm and emotional. And that’s HUGELY important to us.
I wouldn’t going on and on about this except that I want to make a larger point. The past 50 years of live music have been a volume war between bands and audiences. The rock era ushered in the idea that loudness equals power, in venues and even on recorded albums where compression (smushing out dynamics of loud and soft) has been used artlessly and excessively. But music does NOT get its majesty and intensity from volume for its own sake, and I assure you that if we’d been more on top of it and worked with our sound guy last night to back off the level by just 10%, our guest artists would have sounded even MORE forceful and emotional, because our brains would have been reaching toward the artists instead of involuntarily cringing under an onslaught of sound. It didn’t serve our artists like we should have, and I personally regret that, because they were fantastic.
Missy Raines and The New Hip drew their power from Missy’s muscular bass playing and her obvious leadership. The band has all kinds of strengths, but they are an extension of her ideas and her experience. She sang a good deal more than the band’s last appearance when the emphasis was on the acoustic and the instrumental. This time Ethan Ballinger’s electric guitar had Mississippi grit and edge with abundant reverb (just my speed) and it made a gorgeous canvass for Missy to sing. Her opener was one of her many interpretations of songs by the great Ed Snodderly, a long-ago band-mate of hers. “When The Day Is Done” floated like the evening we had last night – still and warm and lovely. “What’s The Calling For” had an awesome rippling groove that put me in mind of Mark Knopfler. “Feel The Same” was a tight slow blues that let Jarrod Walker get busy with his mandolin and Ballinger get artful with guitar. I’m very eager to hear Missy’s upcoming album, which is in the works now.
Eileen Rose brought this week’s does of hard country (we seem to have one a week of late) and I’m glad to finally see her and her expert band The Holy Wreck, featuring guitar and steel wizard Rich Gilbert. I especially enjoyed “Wake Up, Silly Girl” with its bold, sky-high verse that kind of descended like a lonesome come down. Eileen has a clear, melancholy voice, and her original songs make strong additions to the classic country catalog. Meanwhile (and jumping order if you’ll allow) our other female songwriting front-woman of the night came from a very different place. England’s Callaghan brought her tour supporting her debut album Life In Full Color through the Loveless and treated us to some lovely grown-up balladry and pop in the Lilith Fair mode. Her single “Best Year” was breezy and fresh, and her piano based songs like the love tune “Green Eyes” soared on the purity of her voice. It was a case of simple ingredients well prepared.
The night’s discovery/revelations for me came from Allen Thompson and John Michael Rouchell, which I’ll tackle in turn. Mr. Thompson played Roots once before, but his band and sound have evolved a lot. This strong six piece has a look, feel and sound that would have been a smash in 1971, especially with super cool backing singer Laura Maine’s hot moves and bold singing. The whole thing had a Fogerty-meets-Grateful Dead-meets-CSNY kind of thing, and if it was a bit retro, it was for all the right reasons. Music had soul and swirl back then and so did this. When they led a na-na-na singalong on “Love One Another” and blended four voices in seamless harmony on “Dirt To Dust,” I was enthralled. Allen may look like he could play a rabbi in a movie, but he can belt and lead a band. I can’t wait for the new “Salvation In The Ground” album to come out and I recommend you get yourself to a full show.
Now if you’ve ever read my commentary you know I’m a slave to the sounds of New Orleans, and it’s always awesome to have visitors from the mother of all roots music cities. Last night it was My Name Is John Michael, fresh off a 3-week tour and a big show at the Jazz & Heritage Festival. What a blast. Of course he had a smoking drummer who made thickened, complex beats for everything to happen over. And there were two trombone masters with perfect timing and silky tone. But then you have this sparkplug of a man who writes and sings like a troubadour pulling it all together. In other words, it wasn’t just funk. These were SONGS, and John Michael was gracious and humble about being in the songwriting capital of the universe, as he put it. He drew attention to one called “19” that truly was moving and absorbing – a melancholy pause from the badass starts and stops of the uptempo tunes. The power here, besides the band’s savvy ensemble dynamic, came from JM’s centered, focused energy. His confidence feeds his voice, which is gifted anyway. There were hints of Jackson Browne, Bruce Hornsby and Dr. John throughout the set. I have GOT to see this cat on a New Orleans stage, outdoors, with an Abita in hand and a pile of crawfish waiting in the wings. And at just the right volume.