Category Archives: live review

FOR THE LOVE OF… Lockn’ Festival 2018

Aug 23 – 26 were the dates; Infinity Downs Farm in Arrington, VA was the place! Photos follow the review. (Pictured above: Umphrey’s McGee.)

PHOTOS AND TEXT BY WILLA STEIN  

The Lockn’ Festival is a four-day music and camping experience in Arrington, VA at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The festival is an interlocking connection of musicians and fans inspired by The Grateful Dead and the jam-bands that grew out of the love for this style of music. Lockn’ also incorporates genres from all over the musical spectrum, including jazz, reggae, R&B, Americana, rock ‘n’ roll and country into one great big ball of sound.

The festival also focuses on local community engagement, from local food sales to those who educate and take pride in preserving the natural settings that surround the area. Lockn’ vendors far and wide provide all kinds of amazing foods and memorabilia to choose from and a whole array of craft beers and wines. And, if you found the time, you could take part in other activities on the farm, such as group yoga or Waterlockn’ on the Tye River.

This year’s musical highlights included tributes to Aretha Franklin by the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and country singer Margo Price joining in with Widespread Panic. Other standout performances included acoustic “Appalachian psychedelic bluegrass” by Keller and the Keels and a reggae-blues mix with Toots Hibbert and Taj Mahal. And you never know what Chris Harford & Band of Changes will bring to the stage, but you pretty much know it’s going to be good! This collaboration included bassist Dave Dreiwitz, guitarist Scott Metzger and Joe Russo on drums. Another great set was the high-energy pop rock of Sheryl Crow’s band featuring the talented Audley Freed on lead guitar.

It was an unforgettable Sunday night, as Dead & Company’s second night performance closed the festival with an outstanding collaboration with saxophonist Branford Marsalis,  who has played off and on with band members since 1990. At the end of the second set, Weir revealed that it was Marsalis’ birthday! The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” and, as the set came to a close with “Not Fade Away,” the dapper Marsalis reemerged on stage with his tenor sax, keeping the crowd cheering and chanting all the way to the encore of “Brokedown Palace,” “U.S. Blues” and “Ripple.”

Lockn’ brings the best out of everyone - the performers and the audience alike. Last year’s theme seemed to be about Making America Love Again in light of the events in nearby Charlottesville; this year, the love continued to flow throughout every campsite.

Lockn’ is not just a festival of music collaborations, it is a place where thousands of people gather for 4 days, celebrating their love of music, camping and dancing in peace and harmony … where “strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand” is not just a song lyric.

All photos copyright 2018 by Willa Stein Photography.

Susan Tedeschi

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Widespread Panic

Tom Hamilton, Ghost Light

Holly Bowling Ghost Light

Hamageddon is a 14’ high x 18’ long metal pig sculpture that cooks a pig in its belly and shoots fire from both ends

Campground

Toots and the Maytals

Always a colorful crowd…

Band of Changes

P-Funk

Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow with Bob Weir observing from above

Keller Williams

Derek Trucks and Tim Lefebvre

Tedeschi Trucks Band

 

Dead & Company

Sign Language Interpreter, Lockn had interpreters for each act.

Dead & Company with Branford Marsalis

John Mayer

 

Bill Kreutzmann

The LOCKN’ Logo

The Melvins 8/10/18, Englewood CO

Dates: August 10, 2018

Location: Gothic Theater, Denver CO

Live at the Gothic Theater, heavy metal was a-happenin’…

PHOTOS AND TEXT BY BEN CURNETT

If heavy music was ever summed up in one performance, it happened last Friday night in Denver when Melvins played to a near-capacity crowd at the Gothic Theater in Englewood, Colorado. I’m not saying that’s what happened. Metal comes in nearly as many flavors as Japanese Kit-Kats (try the black tea if you ever get the chance; skip baked potato), so pulling it all together on one stage, much less in one show, is a task for imbeciles. Any band that tries to be all things to all people sucks outright and is evil in all the ways that are no fun at all. Not like, “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!” evil, but more like, “Of course corporations are people!” evil, and they can go screw.

But that’s what makes Melvins so good live: they actually do it all, heavier than pretty much everyone, and it’s mind-numbingly, otherworldly good. They’re good expressly because they don’t try to be all things to all people, evil or otherwise. They’re just their own very odd, very loud selves. and that’s good enough to be the guys to sum it all up if … IF … heavy music could ever be summed up in one performance.

Which it can’t.

Still and yet, two bass players is a pretty good start. The newest Melvins LP, “Pinkus Abortion Technician” refers both to Jeff Pinkus, longtime Butthole Surfer and second-to-newest Melvins bassist, and the classic Butthole’s album “Locust Abortion Technician,” a collection of songs that still has my vote (cast when I was 12) for scariest record of all time. Pinkus was matched on all things bass just on the other side of the stage by Redd Kross, OFF!, and actual-newest-Melvins standard bearer Steven McDonald. McDonald sang two of the songs on the setlist (Redd Kross’s “What They Say,” The Rolling Stones’ “Sway”) like a rock star, which may sound redundant but bears distinction just because he 1) wore the flashiest suit I’ve ever seen outside of a Too $hort video, and 2) Pinkus is more like something else entirely. A dragster mechanic, maybe. Some gems from the new record came out in the show (“Stop Moving Down To Florida,” “Don’t Forget To Breathe”) as well as classics from all over the board (“Honey Bucket” from 1993’s “Houdini,” “Eye Flys” from 1987’s “Gluey Porch Treatments.”) There was no speaking, if you don’t count the Moving Down To Florida parts, which you shouldn’t. Just rock. That’s all.

Buzz Ozborne and Dale Crover, Melvins’ guitarist and drummer, head and heart, areolas and spleen, know their way around a live performance. It’s as if they have some ectoplasmic connection that leads audiences around like tour guides on Mars; without their guidance, you’ll probably die. This, I strongly suspect, is the reason Buzz wears a magic robe when he plays: Melvins actually HYP-MO-TIZE audiences with thunderous drums and squelching guitar, nonsensical lyrics and brain-rattling distortion that sounds like music but is actually a spaceship engine that’s fueled by 90 minutes of your life and spits out warm, disturbingly loud, humming goo.

 

 

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks 7/31/18, Denver

Live at the Gothic Theater – and the drums were a-drummin’…

PHOTOS AND TEXT BY BEN CURNETT

Jake Morris is really, really great at drums.

That’s where a rundown of the recent Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks show at the Gothic Theatre in Denver needs to start. Of course, the band was fun and energetic. The sound was perfect. The song selection was great for die hards and casual fans alike. Joanna Bolme hit deep dark brown notes and did a dead-on impression of Kim Gordon on “Refute.” Mike Clark filled the room with keyboards and guitars. The Malk (I’m not really a nickname guy, but that’s what I’m going with now) was the perfect song and dance man as per usual.

But the drums. The drums were something else. You get that to greater or lesser extents on the SM & t Jx studio albums, even before Morris, and the new release that this tour is supporting, Sparkle Hard, is no exception. Morris was an absolute highlight of the show; he played nothing short of perfect rock drums, a completely next-level performance. The spaces Morris left between beats were as musical and deliberate the beats themselves. His fills were graceful/drunk Dean Martin tumbles into steady but loping time signatures (“Stick Figures In Love,” “Bretheren”). His driving rhythm on longer, ramblier ventures (“Kite,” “Real Emotional Trash”) were riddled with all kinds of subtle flourishes that sprung up everywhere. On stage with a group of very talented musicians, Morris pushed the band higher and farther than their individual art would allow. He was a gift.

Live, the Jicks just get better. Four years is a long time, but 2014’s Wig out at Jagbags (and really, most everything under the SM moniker) bears repeated listening, so at least fans have had that. The live show, though, is what’s really been missing. The Malk (!) doesn’t shy away from his Grateful Dead influences, and it’s easiest/most enjoyable to see and hear on stage. “Middle America” from the new album came about halfway through the set and is the Jerry-est thing they’ve done since “Cinnamon And Lesbians” which they played a few songs earlier. Not to put too fine a point on it, they broke into a “China Cat Sunflower” teaser in the middle of “Shady Lane” during the encore, just in case you weren’t getting the vibe.

The other Pavement tune, “In The Mouth A Desert” closed the show, and was a crowd-pleaser, natch. The woman next to me almost threw herself off the balcony. But are those songs The Malk’s albatross? I hope not. Like everyone else, I love hearing them. Seeing them played live definitely takes me back, which is pretty great in its own right. At the same time, I’d be happy enough if he never played any of them again. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but SM & t Jx have been together for nearly twice as long as The Malk’s other band. It’s entirely its own thing, sans-nostalgia. To me, at this point in my life, that’s miles better, and that’s why I loved the show so much.

Put another way, I count myself lucky to have seen Pavement in Denver during the ‘90s; but I count myself much luckier to have seen Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks at the Gothic last Tuesday.

***

SET LIST: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/stephen-malkmus-and-the-jicks/2018/gothic-theatre-englewood-co-63eb0217.html

Lithics 7/26/18, Denver

Dates: July 26, 2018

Location: Lost Lake Lounge , Denver CO

Live at Lost Lake Lounge one fine Denver evening…

TEXT AND PHOTOS BY BEN CURNETT

“Hypnotic” is the best way to describe Lithics front woman Aubrey Hornor at their recent live show at Denver’s Lost Lake. Not hypnotizing. Hypnotic, as in: she was in a trance, letting the music and lyrics convey all the night’s emotion (or non-emotion, as the case may be). It’s a strategy that works. Along with the dense, dexterous rhythm from bassist Bob Desaulniers and drummer Wiley Hickson and the persistent jangling noise from lead guitarist Mason Crumley, I imagined the show as a four-way boxing match. Each musician was in their respective corner, throwing their own version of sweet science out in the middle of the ring to dance awkwardly with its sparring partners.

The result was an FAQ of definitive punk elements coming together to make thought provoking rock that will immediately bring to mind your favorite parts and pieces of Devo, Bush Tetras, and The Fall. Lithics include more of one particular musical component than their influences: space. There was a lot of silence amid the sound in each of the 12 songs that were on the set list, some deliberately so (Still Forms, Burn On Burn) with others more subtle (Specs, Thing In Your Eye). That feeling is created by a few different Lithics touchstones. For instance, there’s no distortion or effects, for the most part. You get what you get. Also, there are lots and lots and lots of truncated notes, especially from the bass, that stop almost as soon as they start. Even when there’s not actual silence in a song, Lithics open up their music for the audience to insert themselves into. The rhythm guitar stops long enough for the bass notes to take over on Glass Of Water, for instance, before launching into the staccato punctuation of the verse’s coda. The drums fall over themselves, tumbling down over the guitars, and then jump back up into lockstep progressions.

Lithics music on stage is very true to form of their records, with the same clean tone they have in the studio. The stage just adds one more piece to a jangled, sometimes confusing puzzle that will one day explain why Lithics are so, so good.

Lithics newest release is Mating Surfaces out now on Kill Rock Stars.

 

Parker Millsap – 6/21/18, Philadelphia

Dates: June 21, 2018

Location: Johnny Brenda's, Philadelphia PA

Johnny Brenda’s was the place, and the Okie rocker was an ace! (Above photo from Millsap’s Facebook page, where you can find tour dates and more, natch.)

BY JOHN B. MOORE

The draw of Oklahoma native Parker Millsap is wildly diverse. Proof of that could be seen at a recent show at Johnny Brenda’s, a mix of college students, 30-and-40-somethings and a slew of gray-headed music fans on the other side of 60. It’s hard to imagine many other 20-ish musicians that could draw such an eclectic audience on a Thursday night.

But much like his crowd, Millsap and his band play an equally diverse brand of music that draws from Americana, Blues, Alt Country, Folk and straight-ahead Rock. Over the course of the night, they dipped effortlessly in and out of songs from Millsap’s three-album catalogue for a remarkable enjoyable set.

With Millsap’s voice a little raspy, a month into this latest tour promoting Other Arrangements, he bounded onto the stage and asked, “Want to make some noise?” From that moment on, Millsap had the crowd on his side, starting off with a trio of songs from his newest record (“Fine Line,” “Other Arrangements” and “Your Water”).

Halfway into the set, his bandmates – fiddle player, drummer and bassist – all left the stage. Millsap was joined by his opener Jillette Johnson for a duet the two co-wrote, “Come Back When You Can’t Stay,” a sublimely heartbreaking track off of Other Arrangements. Once again alone on the stage, Millsap played a few songs on his own before the band rejoined.

Throughout the night, Millsap was charming, self-effacing (at one point joking that his sweat was washing all of the product out of his hair) as he and his bandmates roared through a stellar 20-plus song set, including an inspired cover of the “Hesitation Blues,” that put the bar remarkably high for any other bands those in attendance were set to see in the coming year.

Read John Moore’s 2016 interview with Parker Millsap HERE.

The English Beat 7/15/18, Englewood, CO

Dates: July 15, 2018

Location: Gothic Theatre, Englewood, CO

Live at the Gothic Theatre, where you better have a valid ID to get in….

TEXT AND PHOTOS BY TIM HINELY

I’ve been a fan of The English Beat since I first heard the band’s records back in the early ‘80s. They had played a 21 and over club outside of Philly when I was underage and had a crappy fake ID that I didn’t think was gonna work, so I missed them.  Fast forward nearly 30 years and it wasn’t until 2011 when I finally caught the band in Portland, Oregon on a great evening.

These days it’s leader Dave Wakeling and a whole new cast of players different from the old days—the original band broke up back in the ‘80s—but honestly, if you close your eyes it sounds like the English Beat of old. Not only that, but the band has  new record out entitled Here We Go Love, the bands’ first since 1982’s Special Beat Service, and it’s a real strong collection of songs.

We missed opener King Schascha (who’s one of the members of Wakeling’s band and who loves to talk, I get it, he’s a toaster but come on, it’s Wakeling’s show ), but got there in time to push our way to the front of the nearly sold-out club. Wakeling sang and played guitar, and had a full band with a bassist, drummer, two keyboardists, a sax player and a woman singing backing vocals and two toasters. These folks are road dogs who are always out playing gigs and know what they’re doing.

They opened up with “Rough Rider” and continued to play some of their early ‘80s classics, including “Twist and Crawl,” “Hands Off…She’s Mine,” “Save Ir For Later,” “Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Ranking Full Stop” and they even pulled out the old General Public chestnut, “Tenderness” which sounded fabulous; unfortunately no “I Confess” but hey, you can’t have everything, right?  Off the new record we heard “The Love You Give” and (the politically charged?) “How Can You Stand There.” No encore, but we didn’t need any, the band played their asses off.

Despite King Schascha taking center stage much of the time, the band was really enjoyable and what I get from Wakeling is that the guy still seems to truly enjoy what he is doing. Imagine that. The guy just has this infectious energy about him and it comes out in his music and when he chats with the crowd. They tour all of the time so if you’ve never seen them before plan on it next time. You’ll get your money’s worth.

 

 

 

Car Seat Headrest + Naked Giants 7/28/18 Englewood, CO

Dates: July 28, 2018

Location: Gothic Theatre, Englewood, CO

Live at the Gothic Theatre and nearly ready to take over the world.  

BY TIM HINELY

I had missed Car Seat Headrest the two previous times they came to town—at least the times I was aware of—and did not want to miss him this time. Assured myself I’d be there and I made it; an Uber driver refused me so I threatened my 86 year old neighbor into driving me down.

Opener Naked Giants are a trio from Seattle who are a lot of fun and also act as part of Car Seat Headrest’s (aka Will Toledo) backing band. These guys had a ton of energy and could play the hell out of their instruments; as one point my pal turned to me and said that their last song “sounded like it combined three different Pixies songs.” The guitarist/vocalist looks like he could’ve been a member of the Surf Punks, while the drummer was completely dialed in, and the bassist/vocalist was the chatty one, welcoming the crowd, calling a few knuckleheads out, and generally having a good time and making sure we were fully entertained. We were. They played a handful of songs off their latest LP, Sluff (New West Records), including the title track and “TV” among others. Catch ‘em next time they’re in town.

Will Toledo and company hit the stage at 10:15 PM and there were seven folks on stage, Count ‘em, 7. In addition to the three Naked Giants, he had another guitar player, a keyboardist, and a second drummer; Toledo just handled vocals. With all of the positive press these past few years, Toledo’s confidence has likely grown by leaps and bounds from when he first appeared on the scene. On stage, from his moves, he comes across as part Nick Cave and part long-distance runner

They played a good mix of tunes off their records, including concert opener “Cosmic Hero” right into “Cute Thing” right into “War is Coming (if you want it).” A little later in the set the tossed out a medley of “Sober to Death”/”Powderfinger”/”Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing” (I heard the “Powderfinger” part and went a little nuts… love that Neil Young song).

They ended the set with the jittery, soaring “Nervous Young-Inhumans’” and then came out for one encore, playing the over-10-minutes-long, epic “Beach Life-in-Death” (off 2011’s Twin Fantasy) and called it a night.

The crowd loves this band. The fan base is dedicated, and with good reason: The songs are strong, and Toledo is basically one of them. I like ‘em a lot more than I thought I would, and really my only beef at all was the semi-obnoxious strobe light show. Retrain the lighting guy, hire Toledo a personal trainer to stretch (pretty soon he’ll have the Bob Pollard high kicks down pat), and this band will be ready to take over the world.

 

 

 

 

2018 Montreal International Jazz Festival 6/28/18-7/7/18

Dates: June 28 - July 7, 2018

Location: Montreal, Canada

Hot Fun in the Summertime: The Montreal Jazz Festival Burns Away the Bluster

BY ALISA CHERRY

As the namesake city of the internationally renowned jazz festival it’s hosted for the past 39 years, Montreal is a cool, cool city. However this year it was hot, very hot in fact. And that has nothing to do with the hot acts… or, for the matter, the cool performances either. With temperatures approaching the mid-90s, and the stifling conditions that made even brief walks between venues a daunting challenge in itself, this year’s Montreal Jazz Festival which took place June 28 to July 7 was not without some tedium due to its temperatures. (Go HERE for our  2017 coverage.)

Nevertheless, those who attended either the free outdoor performances, the dozens of ticketed events or a bit of both, mostly agreed it was worth dealing with the heat at least for the sake of witnessing some amazing music. And indeed, with choices between dozens of world class artists, both known and occasionally obscure, the 2018 Montreal Jazz Festival proved yet again how all-inclusive it is when it comes to its musical offerings. As anyone who has attended the fest over the course of the past several years will attest — its handle aside — The Montreal Jazz Festival isn’t just about jazz. In years past, such rock luminaries as Brian Wilson, King Crimson and Bob Dylan have graced its stages, either as featured artists or associated performers. This year, such popular luminaries as Ry Cooder, Jann Arden, Seal, Boz Scaggs, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull took to its stages.

It may be sweltering outside, but the Montreal Jazz Festival — or as it’s referred to so eloquently in French, the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal — is cool. Very cool indeed.

Montreal is indeed a model city for a festival so sprawling it takes up several city blocks just to contain it. Fortunately, the heat notwithstanding, all the venues are easily accessible. The venues come in all varieties, from a multitude of clubs to the expansive Place des Arts, home to several ample staged stages within its massive confines. Then of course, there are the outside locales spread along the main drag, Rue St. Catherine, all of which invite the choice of a concerted devotee.

Naturally, those who consider themselves diehard jazz aficionados had plenty to cheer about. Herbie Hancock, Carla Bley, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Dave Holland, and Terrence Blanchard were among the more iconic names that headlined the many stages and featured concerts. Those weaned on a rock or pop pedigree had opportunity to soak up the blues, bluster and boogie of George Thorogood or marvel at the performance by Number 9, a group comprised of young musicians who faithfully reproduced every note and nuance of the Beatles famed “White Album.” A spectator whose tastes weren’t necessary confined to any particular parameter could marvel at the genre-bending abilities of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, the classic and contemporary musical fusion of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, or simply find themselves dazzled by the ageless Dee Dee Bridgewater and the sultry sounds of Beth Hart.

Personally, we found ourselves immediately impressed on the first night by the combined talents of John Medeski and Marc Ribot. It was jazzy indeed. Or was it? The sheer sweep and intensity of the music’s remarkable dynamics had us completely held in sway.

That perhaps is the greatest gift the Montreal Jazz Festival provides for all, an opportunity to venture into unknown realms, jump between genres and learn to understand and appreciate sounds which may not be immediately familiar. Those who normally find adventurous sounds of this sort alien or intimidating in any way are given a chance to explore on their own without judgement or disdain. It’s a vast musical market boasting a wide array of wares, all of which make Festival International De Jazz De Montreal one of the coolest festivals around.

Even when it’s just too damn hot.

 

LAKE STREET DIVE 7/12/18, Raleigh NC

Dates: July 12, 2018

Location: NC Museum of Art, Raleigh NC

Sonic art one beautiful Tar Heel eve at the North Carolina Museum of Art. (Scroll down for more images.)

TEXT & PHOTOS BY TODD GUNSHER

On a clear Carolina night, the amphitheater at the NC Museum of Art was filled with the sophisticated pop sounds of Lake Street Dive. On tour supporting their latest record, Free Yourself Up, this was their third sell out of this venue, causing lead singer Rachael Price to comment that it is starting to feel like home.

Opening with the first cut from the new album, “Baby, Don’t Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts,” the 21 song set included all the tracks from the new record interspersed with songs from their previous two albums, closing with a longtime fan favorite, the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back.”

Price, Mike “McDuck” Olsen, Bridget Kearney and Mike Calabrese, always had a full sound but the addition of Akie Bermiss on keys adds just enough extra to help fill out the live sound. He even took a lead vocal singing Shania Twain’s “Still The One” in a style suited to a dark jazz club. Throughout the night the vocals and playing were tight and on point, with Kearney’s bass playing delivering numerous amazing moments. But to me, what really makes Lake Street Dive stand out in a world of beats, jam-bands, and singer/songwriters is their finely crafted songs. Even songs that at first sound simple still contain interesting chords, changes, and rhythms that harken back to The Beatles and Brill Building, in approach, if not actual sound. That’s what keeps me coming back whenever they come to town.

Opening the show was Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear (above), a mother/son duo with a soulful, bluesy sound. They grabbed the audience’s attention from the first song and I’m sure gained a lot of new fans.

Follow master shutterbug, journalist, and vinyl enthusiast Todd Gunsher at his Instagram page.

 

 

 

Sherry Ryan / Darren “Boobie” Browne 5/25/18, Toronto

Dates: May 25, 2018

Location: The Burdock, Toronto ON

Live at The Burdock, and a night of Canadian musical community.

TEXT/PHOTOS BY ERIC THOM

I have family who hails from Halifax, so I know a thing or two about the close-knit sense of community inherent to those who live on our proud East Coast. However, there’s something even closer to be found amongst the people who call Newfoundland their home. It’s an intensified existence in which the land and the people are one, bound together in celebration of the sweet blend of harsh conditions and jaw-dropping beauty that is everyday life. Sherry Ryan hails from Middle Cove, just north of St. John’s – and it shows on so many levels in her art form.

Born of the traditional Céilidh (from the Scottish Gaelic for ‘kitchen party’) – a coming together of friends, family and often members of the immediate community – the Nerwfoundlanders’ world is grounded in music, good food and a coming together for a group hug. This was richly evident in this show – as Sherry’s sister, Jackie, commandeered a collection of cousins, friends and ex-pats to become a part of this special ‘homecoming’ show. The intimate setting of The Burdock’s music room was ideal for the emotion-fueled evening as Newfoundlanders and otherwise savored the work of this talented duo. Darren “Boobie” Browne, another noted Newfoundland export, provided drop-dead accompaniment on mandolin, supplying deft vocal harmonies to complement each of Sherry’s well-placed notes – creating a surprisingly full band sound in combination with Sherry’s acoustic guitar work, all the more impactful in the rec-room-cozy space. Never was an audience more captured than this.

 

***

Touring to support her fourth release, Wreckhouse, Sherry has long been a special breed of singer-songwriter, effortlessly painting mood-drenched pictures with relatively straight-forward lyrics that benefit from equal parts country and that certain hint of forlorn sadness that comes with the territory. What’s most distinctive is her voice which, as it starts to sink its hooks, has an uncanny resemblance to Anne Murray’s in its clear, confident alto (with an implied debt to Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline). Yet, her material has nothing to do with the pop-country backdrop of “Snowbird” – offering, instead, strong local imagery, the heartache of torn relationships, folklore – real and imagined and the laments inherent in the passing of time. The album’s title– “Wreckhouse” – refers to a true tale of the ill-fated Newfoundland railway (1882-1997) – and is the name given to car-tipping wind conditions that relied on a local trapper’s weather call to “Stop The Trains” (one of the album’s crowning jewels and co-written with her late Dad), thereby protecting them from nature’s wrath. Having more in common with John Prine than Anne Murray, this homegrown masterpiece represents the essence of Ryan’s talents. Like Prine, she reels you in with her heartfelt stories, a hint of humour and the vocal power to command attention to her every word. The new album, however, is a strong release based on it being a potent ‘band’ record – each original composition basking in the added firepower of pedal steel, guitar, piano, swirls of B3 and background vocals. The acid test for any good song is, however, what was witnessed on this warm, sun-drenched evening – two people, two instruments, strong vocals embellished with remarkably high-register harmonies. The powerful opener (and single) “Natural Law” mined the same country edge of the recorded version, despite the lack of baritone guitar and pedal steel. Browne’s deft skills with electric mandolin created sounds the likes of which I’ve never thought the mandolin was capable of, his vocal harmony adding considerable depth and personality to Ryan’s already powerful lead vocal. The next song, “Ferry Won’t Wait” is an ode to a missed ferry, causing a cancelled concert on Fogo Island in the land that weather rules. The Prine-like “Long-Awaited Question” was born from a breakdown at the Dollar Store that ended with a Tarot Card reading and the end of a relationship. “Cool and Clear”, following the order of the release, relies on piano on the album as yet another breakup song (this time, a friend’s) benefits from its simple, delicate delivery onstage. Again, the heartfelt yet humorous real-life “Stop The Trains” is a loving celebration of the way things were, worsened by the intervention of ‘modern-day improvements’ – to its hilarious conclusion. Jumping ahead to “On Paper”, these two voices created an hypnotic effect of back-and-forth with precious little accompaniment required, yet both guitar and mandolin turning in incredible, colorful textures.

The comparably upbeat “Ain’t Gonna Worry” moved into blues territory, buoyed by quality finger-picking that erupted, with Sherry’s coaching, into a legitimate audience singalong. The following song, “10 Minutes”, documents the distance across town in St. John’s at a torqued-up speed. One of the night’s most stunning songs was the standout “After Whiskey Before Breakfast”, providing Ryan with her Emmylou moment. Slowed down for maximum effect and minus its full serving of recorded pedal steel, this was a downer for the ages (meant in a good way). Much as the full band treatment cues the instant party, it’s this two-player presentation that demonstrates Ryan’s vocal power in its strongest light. Calling up two relatives to join her in a rendition of ”Something Else” (from 2008’s Wonderful Cures), its powerful chorus lit up the room, Ryan’s vocal still able to cut through the full force gale of voices. The natural fit of Ryan’s vocals to Browne’s harmonies was realized in the Carter Family’s “Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow Tree”, underlining Ryan’s understated guitar strengths and Browne’s prowess on mandolin. A compulsory, near-deafening call for an encore yielded a P.E.I. song written by one Gene MacLellan, as she kicked into “Snowbird”, no less – sounding as pure and natural as the Maritimer who made the song so indelible.

These themes of home, hearth and heartbreak suggest a rich upbringing in the sounds of the Carter Family but the fact that she’s a loyal Newfoundlander goes a long way to defining who she really is. She may not be a household name but she’s certainly no diamond in the rough at this point. She’s got a firm grasp of where she wants to go and all the skills to get there.

As for Browne, an integral component of a number of Newfoundland bands (The Burning Hell, The Kubasonics) and a continual, in-demand sideman, his self-released Birth of the Chickenpick (Boobie Browne & The Onions] is well worth hunting down.

Website: http://sherryryan.com/

Videos:

Natural Law

I Made it On My Own

Long Awaited Question