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EXCELLENT SERIES

What is it about Game 7? For the second year in a row, MCR and the final showdown of the year in Major League Baseball took place simultaneously, leading to a whole lot of phone checking as the results of Houston versus Los Angeles came in. Now, nothing could top last year when my long-beloved Cubs won in dramatic fashion. But it was heartening to see Houston win its first ever championship as a team in the wake of the destruction and trauma left behind by Hurricane Harvey. Houston also has numerous ties to our musical world, and it was fun seeing folks like Hayes Carll go bananas with joy on social media when the team got that final out. What does this have to do with Wednesday’s show? Oh, not much, but it was an excellent World Series and its final game will be woven into my memory of this show’s excellent series of artists, featuring bluegrass by Donna Ulisse, rock and roll from Hannah Fairlight, amiable pop folk from Guthrie Brown and tightly funky soul from Amy Black.

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The signature sound of Donna Ulisse is warm and sort of sweetly melting like one of those chocolate cakes with the gooey core. Donna has finally gotten some of her due as a songwriter with awards and many cuts, but her vocals are underrated. On originals like “Back Home Feelin’ Again” and “It Could Have Been The Mandolin,” her graceful tone and subtle breaks made a sonorous atmosphere. Her one cover, the classic Dottie West song “Here Comes My Baby Back Again” was also rich - a divine melody that Donna did not write but which she sings into the catalog of keepers.

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Hannah Fairlight and her guitar player Jeremy Asbrock hit the stage sporting throwback haircuts and postures that seemed a strong homage to the Runaways. The music had similar inclinations, moving from a pop-infused opening “Tomorrow” to a more pounding 70s arena riff thing on “Restless Heart.” “The Stand” was all angst and yearning. Fairlight switched to keyboard for the moody “Money And Run” which closed the set.

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The dominant vibe of Guthrie Brown was groovy cheer. Performing with acoustic guitar and a harmonizing bass player, Brown displayed a superb, easy going voice and songs with loads of melody and craft. The opening tunes were upbeat and head bobbing. “Drug Habit” was more somber, but it built to an exciting climax on the foundation of an open-tuned guitar. Finale “Edge of the World” saw Brown make loops with his guitar pedals and construct a totally lovely tune over them.

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A large band wore black to back Amy Black in a stirring set of original soul music. A sharp horn/guitar motif set off opener “The Blackest Cloud.” Black’s “It’s Hard To Love An Angry Man” simmered with feminist frustration over a 6/8 beat. Much more loving was a co-write with friend of Roots Karen Leipziger; “What Makes A Man” as tribute to their husbands. But it wasn’t all love songs. Black’s “19” was straight up the toll of the Vietnam War and it was a brave reach for an artist who never stops striving. Nice that her efforts are so often danceable as well.

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