This week: 25th Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival

By Ken Paulson

Tin Pan South, an extraordinary songwriters festival set in Nashville, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a full slate events scheduled from March 28 through April 1.

The Tin Pan South festival features small groups of successful songwriters, typically playing in the the round (or in a row.) Some songwriters are more polished performers than others, but it’s a treat to hear the original versions of now-classic songs.

Among the Tin Pan South highlights:

  • Bruce “Hey Baby” Channel, Gary Nicholson, “Sonny “I Fought the Law” Curtis and Sonny Throckmorton at 6 p.m. on March 28 at the Bluebird Café.
  • Mac Davis, Neil Thrasher, Wendell Mobley and Lee Thomas Miller at 6 p.m. on March 29 at the Bluebird Café.
  • Jessi Alexander, Deric Ruttan, Jimmy Yeary and JT Harding at the Hard Rock Café at 9 p.m. on March 29.
  • Keb’ Mo’, Desmond Child and Victoria Shaw at the Listening Room at 6 p.m. on March 30.
  • Gary Burr, Georgia Middleman, Paul Overstreet and Scotty Emerick at the Hard Rock Café at 6 p.m. on March 30.
  • James Otto, Mark McGuinn, Myler Reeve, Treat Landon at The Country at 6 p.m on March 30.
  • Bob Morrison, Dickey Lee, Pat Alger and Wayland Holyfield at the Bluebird Café at 6:30 p.m. on March 31.
  • Emily West, Jamie O’Neal, KS Rhoads and Stephony Smith at the Listening Room at 9:30 p.m. on March 31.
  • Bobby Braddock, Marc D. Sanders, Matraca Berg, Roger Cook at 3rd and Lindsley at 6:30 p.m. on April 1.
  • Bekka Bramlett, Billy Burnette, Bruce Gaistch and Dennis Morgan at 9:30 p.m. at Douglas Corner on April 1.

That just scratches the surface. You’ll find a full schedule on the Tin Pan South site.

 

Re-issue: Lesley Gore’s “Love Me By Name”

By Ken Paulson

Real Gone Music remains a great friend to fans of ’60s pop music queens, with a fine catalog recognizing the legacies of Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Jackie DeShannon, and recently,  Lesley Gore. Following up their reissue of her Someplace Else Now, Real Gone Music has issued an expanded edition of the 1976 album Love Me By Name.

This adventurous album with a sci-fi cover reunited Lesley Gore with producer Quincy Jones, who recorded all of her early “It’s My Party”-era hits. Lesley hadn’t had much success in the ’70s, and this was a stab at giving her a contemporary sound.

It succeeded in doing that, though the album didn’t find an audience. Love Me By Name features an all-star group of players (Herbie Hancock, Harvey Mason, Jim Keltner and  Dave Grusin among them) , and includes “Sometimes,” a performance with the then-emerging Brothers Johnson.

Lesley co-wrote the songs with Ellen Weston, and they ‘re well-crafted. I’ve long admired “Immortality,” the single from the album. It’s about reincarnation or more precisely bouncing back from death. It is the peppiest song ever about the afterlife and features an 11 syllable hook: “Im-im-im-im-im-mo- mo – Imortality.”

Lesley Gore had a rich writing and recording career long after the “party” was over. This new collection captures some of her most ambitious later work.

Taking cover on Cayamo 2017

 

By Paul T. Mueller

Singer-songwriters usually, and understandably, focus on their own songs when performing. But many also perform songs they didn’t write, especially in a festival setting, where the audience tends to appreciate the different perspectives artists can bring to others’ work. The recently concluded Cayamo 2017 cruise, a singer-songwriter-focused festival at sea, featured many excellent cover performances.

Leaving aside shows that by definition were pretty much all covers (a tribute to the late Guy Clark, for instance), here’s a sampling (in no special order and by no means comprehensive) of artists’ takes on songs written by or usually associated with other artists.

  • Parker Millsap, “You Gotta Move” (Mississippi Fred McDowell)
  • Brandi Carlile, “Going to California” (Led Zeppelin)
  • Patty Griffin and Aaron Lee Tasjan, “Insider” (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)
  • Richard Thompson and Rufus Wainwright, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” (Sandy Denny)
  • Christian Lopez Band, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” (The Beatles)
  • Bonnie Bishop, “Whipping Post” (The Allman Brothers Band)
  • American Aquarium “Spanish Pipedream” (John Prine)
  • Aoife O’Donovan, “Can’t Find My Way Home” (Blind Faith)
  • Steve Earle, “Rex’s Blues” (Townes Van Zandt)
  • Ruby Amanfu, “I Put a Spell on You” (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins)
  • Gretchen Peters, “Guadalupe” (Tom Russell)
  • Sarah Jarosz, “Come On Up to the House” (Tom Waits)
  • Gurf Morlix, “The Parting Glass” (Traditional)
  • Sarah Potenza, “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen)
  • Patty Griffin, “Where or When” (Rodgers and Hart)

For lack of a better title, the “Repeat Offender Award” (no offense) goes to the Christian Lopez Band, which, in addition to covering the Beatles, performed Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons,” Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” Steve Fromholz’s “I’d Have to Be Crazy,” Stephen Bishop’s “On and On” and Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis.” Let it be noted that A) they did a fine job on all of these, and B) their original material was also excellent.

The “Reverse Cover Award” goes to Steve Earle, who introduced his own “Galway Girl” by predicting that 100 years from now, people in Ireland will still be singing the song, but will be insisting that it was written by an Irishman.

Quotable Cayamo 2017

By Paul T. Mueller

Things musicians say between songs are sometimes funny, sometimes profound, sometimes both. Here are some notable quotes from the stages of Cayamo 2017.

“I don’t have any songs about boats. I do have a lot of songs about death, so we’ll just do those.” – Gretchen Peters

“I’m here to do country music!” – Lee Ann Womack

“Are you often told you’re too young to be writing that well?” – Glen Phillips to 21-year-old Christian Lopez after the latter presented a new song in their songwriters-in-the-round show with Will Hoge

“Glen and I were 21 when Pearl Harbor happened.” – Will Hoge (who’s actually 44) to Lopez after Lopez described singing on an aircraft carrier

“Damn, I’m having a good time! Resistance is fun!” – Gretchen Peters, in the “Songs of Protest” show she hosted

“The dues-paying in Nashville is never-ending.” – Angaleena Presley

“There’s a responsibility to protect the repertoire.” – Luther Dickinson, on the North Mississippi Allstars’ approach to playing the blues.

Cayamo, I just found out, is an old Spanish word for ‘We printed the lineups too small.’ “ – Will Hoge, on the tiny type used on the show schedules provided to passengers

“Y’all just sit there and judge us? If we make you cry, do we get a prize?” – Aoife O’Donovan, a guest performer in the Secret Sisters’ “All the Girls Who Cry” show, to the Sisters, Lydia and Laura Rogers (who were in fact sitting, judge-like, at the side of the stage)

“How cliché are we, crying at our own show?” – Lydia Rogers, after a particularly sad song

“Oh, my god! Holy sh*t! I was worried! Thanks for voting for me! I never win anything!” – Sarah Potenza, who earned her spot in the lineup partly through passengers’ votes in the “Soundcheck” competition

“We’re songwriters. You can’t hurt our feelings.” – Lori McKenna, in a Love Junkies show

BJ Barham

“Thank you so much for cultivating this kind of community… It’s just as much fun as everyone told us. It’s a family reunion!” – BJ Barham of American Aquarium.

“We went from a latte president to an Orange Julius president.” – “stowaway” Chuck Cannon, on his new song “Tangerine Jesus,” sung to the tune of “Paperback Writer”

“It’s ‘Skunk’ time all over again!” – Loudon Wainwright III of “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” fame, on the expected success of “Meet the Wainwrights,” a musical introduction to his extended family

“If Elton John had had a baby with Tom Petty…” – Patty Griffin, introducing guest Aaron Lee Tasjan, before a lovely duet on Petty’s “Insider”

“You will always have my heart.” – Rodney Crowell to Emmylou Harris in their duet show

“Same back atcha!” – Harris to Crowell

“I’m going to keep singing this song until I die or it comes true, whichever happens first.” – Steve Earle on his optimistic “Jerusalem”

 

 

 

 

 

Cayamo music cruise review: An astounding line-up

By Paul Mueller

The 10th edition of the Cayamo music cruise enjoyed sunny skies, smooth seas and a fairly astounding musical lineup. The festival at sea, aboard the Norwegian Jade, left Tampa on Feb. 19, and returned a week later, after stops at the islands of Cozumel, Mexico, and Roatan, Honduras. As always, it was billed as “A Journey Through Song,” and as always it lived up to that promise. The number of shows and their scheduling made it difficult to see every performer, but that’s a good problem to have.

Most of the more than 50 performers played individual shows, and many appeared in themed and collaboration shows as well. Themed shows included a tribute to the late Guy Clark; a “Songs of Protest” show hosted by Gretchen Peters; a “variety show” hosted by Shawn Mullins; “All the Girls Who Cry,” a sad-song fest hosted by Alabama country-folk crooners The Secret Sisters, and a guitar-focused show dubbed “Buddy Miller’s Guitar 101.” There were several “and friends” shows, mostly featuring several singer-songwriters in an in-the-round format, and singer and multi-instrumentalist Luke Bulla hosted “Last Man Standing” jams that capped off three evenings’ music. Many made guest appearances at other artists’ shows throughout the week, and passenger jams, sometimes including professionals, were easily found all over the boat.

A weeklong festival inevitably produces too many high points to list them all, but here are a few. Be assured that at the same time as pretty much any of these shows, there was at least one other equally memorable show going on somewhere else on the Jade.

Sunday, Feb. 19: The opening set on the pool deck can be a tough slot, with many passengers still boarding and those already aboard busy looking around or reuniting with old friends. But singer-songwriter Christian Lopez, a West Virginia native who’s all of 21 years old, made the most of his rookie appearance, demonstrating a veteran’s savvy in capturing the attention of the crowd. Alternating between well-written originals and covers, and between full-band and solo formats, Lopez rocked hard and showed that he’d earned his spot

North Mississippi All-Stars

on the roster. Well-done renditions of the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons” and Bill Withers’ “Use Me” played to the sensibilities of the crowd, much of which was three times Lopez’s age, but in a respectful way.

Also: Brandi Carlile,  a veteran of the first Cayamo music cruise in 2008 and most since, had herself a great time at the sail away show later in the afternoon, proclaiming the cruise “the greatest Cayamo ever.” Assisted as always by the Hanseroth twins (Phil on bass and Tim on guitar), she tore through favorites such as “Wherever Is Your Heart” and “The Eye” and closed with a nice rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California.”

Monday, Feb. 20: East Nashville-based singer-songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan made his much-anticipated Cayamo music cruise debut at an evening pool-deck show, and fully met his fans’ high expectations. Accompanied by fellow singer-songwriter Brian Wright, Tasjan played most of his most recent album, Silver Tears, as well as a few older tunes. His outgoing personality contrasted with Wright’s more stoic approach, but they were two of a kind when they started trading guitar licks. Late in the show, Wright took the spotlight to offer a fine rendition of his murder ballad “Maria Sugarcane.” Tasjan closed with a vigorous workout on his anthemic “Success” that had much of the crowd singing along.

Love Junkies on Cayamo music cruise

Also: The Love Junkies (singer-songwriters Lori McKenna, Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey) played an engaging show, performing songs made famous by bigger names in Nashville. These included McKenna’s “Humble and Kind” (Tim McGraw), Lindsey’s co-write “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (Keith Urban) and “Girl Crush” (written by all three and recorded by Little Big Town). The trio got support from Cary Barlowe and Ruston Kelly. It’s always fun to hear songs performed by the people who wrote them, without the usual studio trappings. Extra points to Rose for pushing through despite a case of laryngitis.

Tuesday, Feb. 21: The Songs of Protest show, hosted by Nashville singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters and featuring several Cayamo newcomers, was one of the emotional high points of the cruise. Performances included a powerful rendition of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” by soul powerhouse Sarah Potenza; Allen Toussaint’s joyful “Yes We Can Can,” by Amy Helm; Randy Newman’s “Political Science,” sung by Peters’ husband, keyboardist Barry Walsh, from the viewpoint of the new U.S. president; and Mary Gauthier’s “Mercy Now,” sung with intensity by Gurf Morlix and Potenza. Peters’ selections included a beautiful rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee.”

Also: A pool-deck tribute to Guy Clark tribute featured contributions from longtime Clark associates (Rodney Crowell, “Stuff That Works”; Emmylou Harris, “Immigrant Eyes”) as well as more recent acolytes (Sarah Jarosz, “Boats to Build”; Brian Wright, “Coyote”). Oddly missing from the set was the iconic “L.A. Freeway,” but Crowell and Steve Earle teamed up to close with “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train.”

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Fans might have expected the basics in a show called Buddy Miller’s Guitar 101; what they got was far more advanced. Singer-songwriter and producer Miller alternated between describing his own journey to guitar mastery and using his laptop to play snippets of six-string artistry by predecessors such as James Burton, Link Wray and Jimi Hendrix. Things got even better when Miller brought out his guests. Tasjan ripped through a terrific acoustic rendition of “Streets of Galilee,” which incorporates his own musical autobiography. Nashville session player Tom Bukovac played a funky/jazzy bit of electric improvisation that had Miller and Tasjan grinning and shaking their heads. North Mississippi Allstars frontman Luther Dickinson talked about his band’s mission in the blues world (“There’s a responsibility to respect the repertoire”) and demonstrated his mastery of both the acoustic six-string and a two-string instrument made from a coffee can. Finally, the legendary Richard Thompson talked a little about having played with Hendrix and executed a beautiful acoustic take on “Turning of the Tide,” along with an instrumental piece he described as “an Irish tune with Scottish variations.”

Also: Nashville singer-songwriter Will Hoge’s show in a well-packed Spinnaker Lounge, in which he talked about burning out and leaving music a few years ago before rediscovering his craft and returning to the road. The set featured the kind of confessional songs you’d expect, plus some favorites such as the funny but pointed “Jesus Came to Tennessee.” Hoge is a very funny guy, but also an intense performer, and his powerful songs and playing often had the sometimes-rowdy Spinnaker crowd listening in dead silence.

Sarah Jarosz on Cayamo music cruise

Thursday, Feb. 23: Against the backdrop of a nice Caribbean sunset, Kacey Musgraves and her band serenaded the sail-away from Roatan on the pool deck. The set list included a well-chosen mix of originals (“This Town,” “Merry Go ’Round,” “It Is What It Is”) and interesting covers (Weezer’s “Island in the Sun,” Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” Santo & Johnny’s “Sleepwalk”). There was also a fun and witty reworking of the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo,” with lyrics tailored to the Cayamo experience and a laid-back vibe that suited the occasion perfectly. Musgraves closed with her anthemic “Arrow.”

Also: Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz, another Cayamo music cruise rookie, still looks about 17, but she sings and plays like she’s been onstage forever. Accompanied by bassist Jeff Picker and Australian-turned-Austinite guitar ace Jedd Hughes, Jarosz played a lovely set highlighted by the powerful (and Grammy-winning) “House of Mercy,” co-written with Hughes. Jarosz seems able to play anything with strings; her instruments in this show included acoustic and electric guitars, banjo and her unusual octave mandolin, an eight-stringed instrument the size of a small guitar.

Friday, Feb. 24: If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s possible to play rock ‘n’ roll at 10 a.m. on a cruise ship, the answer is, “It is if you’re the North Mississippi Allstars.” Playing to a nearly capacity crowd in the Jade’s largest indoor venue, the Stardust Theater, the Allstars (Luther and Cody Dickinson, plus bassist Dominic Davis, who played with several artists) featured a mix of acoustic blues and all-out boogie. Cody, usually the Allstars’ drummer, yielded the

skins to Brady Blade, also from Miller’s band, to step out front on guitar and vocals for the traditional “Deep Ellum Blues.” The set closed with a fine rendition of the classic “Sitting on Top of the World,” featuring Luther and his coffee-can guitar.

Also: Singer-songwriter and Cayamo music cruise first-timer Aoife O’Donovan played a mostly original set, by turns quiet and loud, in the Spinnaker. She was assisted by guitarist Anthony da Costa and drummer Steve Nistor, along with guests Stuart Duncan on fiddle and Sarah Jarosz (who has played in the folkie trio I’m With Her with O’Donovan and former Nickel Creeker Sara Watkins). O’Donovan closed with a lovely rendition of Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” that might have drawn a few tears from those old enough to remember Blind Faith’s version.

Saturday, Feb. 24: The gospel show has become a well-loved Cayamo tradition. This year it took the form of a songwriter round rather than a succession of artists as in the past. Featured were country singer turned soul belter Bonnie Bishop, Nashville songwriters and performers (and spouses) Lari White and Chuck Cannon, and Sarah Potenza. Lending support were guitarists Ian Crossman, who’s married to Potenza, and Ford Thurston, who plays with Bishop, and bassist Patrick Blanchard). The show featured some traditional gospel, or at least gospel-ish, songs such as “I Shall Be Released” and “Power in the Blood,” as well as spiritual offerings such as Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” and (perhaps inevitably in the wake of Leonard Cohen’s passing) a slow, intense rendition of “Hallelujah” by Potenza.

Bonnie Bishop

Also: The Wainwright Family, featuring patriarch Loudon Wainwright III and various descendants, exes and others, performed an excellent and eclectic set in the Stardust, kicking off with a team-effort “Meet the Wainwrights” to introduce the players. The cast included Wainwright’s son, Rufus Wainwright; his daughters, Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche; Lucy’s mother, Suzzy Roche, and Wainwright’s sister, Sloan Wainwright. Guests included Emmylou Harris, who performed a song in honor of Wainwright’s former wife, the late folksinger Kate McGarrigle; Brandi Carlile, with the Hanseroth twins; fiddler-mandolinist David Mansfield, and guitarist Stephen Murphy. The show closed with an all-hands-on-deck sing-along on Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” and a nice solo piano rendition of “Hallelujah” by Rufus Wainwright.

Honorable mentions on the Cayamo Music Cruise: Oklahoma folk-blues prodigy Parker Millsap, Mississippi rocker Paul Thorn, Nashville neo-diva Angaleena Presley, Colorado bluegrass outfit Trout Steak Revival, Nashville country-pop band Skyline Motel, North Carolina rockers American Aquarium, soulful Nashville singer-songwriter Sam Lewis, singer-songwriters Beth Wood and Patty Griffin, Nashville country traditionalist Lee Ann Womack, former Civil Wars member John Paul White, rising country artist Ryan Hurd, Nashville songstress Ruby Amanfu, former Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips, young singer-songwriter Brian Dunne, new country star Maren Morris, Cayamo t’ai-chi master and clotheshorse Jim Lauderdale, Alabama folkie-rockers The Mulligan Brothers, and former Sea Level keyboardist and saxophonist Randall Bramblett.

Doyle and Debbie interview: Behind the scenes

By Ken Paulson

Walk by the venerable Station Inn tomorrow night or on many evenings throughout the year and you’ll hear raucous laughter coming from inside the Nashville venue.

Strange. Bluegrass isn’t that funny.

But Doyle and Debbie are. They’re the lead characters in an irreverent musical that parodies traditional country songs in a non-traditional way. “When You’re Screwin’ Other Women (Think of Me)” pretty much says it all.

The show – in residency at the Station Inn – recreates Doyle’s “comeback” tour with his “third Debbie.” It satirizes old school country, but with an affectionate nod.

The show was created and written by Bruce Arnston, and features Arnston and Jenny Littleton in the title roles.  We had the chance to talk with both recently about this truly singular show:

New: Mavericks, Rodney Crowell, Drew Holcomb

Cayamo 2017: A music cruise preview

By Paul T. Mueller

The 2017 edition of the Cayamo music cruise sails southward today, with a few changes to mark the 10th edition of the singer-songwriter-focused festival at sea. For the first time, Cayamo will be leaving from Tampa, instead of Miami as in previous years. And the sold-out cruise will be aboard the Norwegian Jade instead of the Norwegian Pearl, its home for the past seven years.

But the biggest change, for better or worse, may be the schedule. Cayamo has never been exactly a relaxing experience, but Sixthman, the Atlanta-based Norwegian Cruise Lines subsidiary that produces the seven-night voyage, seems to have been determined to stuff this year’s schedule with an almost unbelievable number of performers and shows. To accommodate this wealth of talent, shows on non-port days will start at 10 a.m., instead of noon as in years past. It’ll be interesting to see how that works out, given that musicians – and many Cayamoans – tend to be the nocturnal type, and in many cases will have been up late the night before. The large roster of performers will also dictate a lot of overlap between shows, making for some tough choices when deciding what to see and what to (regretfully) let go.

Much of the lineup on Cayamo 2017 reads like a Who’s Who of previous Cayamos – Emmylou Harris, Brandi Carlile, Richard Thompson, Rodney Crowell, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, Steve Earle, Paul Thorn, Glen Phillips and Jim Lauderdale, among others. The Wainwright family is almost a lineup unto itself, comprising Loudon Wainwright III, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Sloan Wainwright, Lucy Wainwright Roche and Suzzy Roche. And of course it wouldn’t be Cayamo without Shawn Mullins, the only musician who’s been along for every sailing.

Returning veterans in the not-quite-household-names category include rocker Will Hoge, The Secret Sisters, Angaleena Presley, Sam Lewis, Ruby Amanfu and Beth Wood, among others.

This year also marks the debut of some much-anticipated newcomers on Cayamo 2017, among them Oklahoma phenom Parker Millsap, genre-spanning singer-songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan, multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz, folk-rocker Amy Helm, veteran Americana performer and producer Gurf Morlix, country singer turned blues singer Bonnie Bishop and vocal powerhouse Sarah Potenza. Several bands will also make the voyage, including the bluegrass-oriented The Mulligan Brothers and Trout Steak Revival and the harder-rocking North Mississippi Allstars and American Aquarium.

For a little added intrigue, there will be at least one “stowaway,” an artist whose identity hasn’t yet been revealed. Who this might be has been the subject of considerable pre-cruise debate, fueled on social media by cryptic hints from Sixthman.

In addition to the usual straightforward sets, several special themed shows are scheduled, including a Songs of Protest set featuring singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters; Buddy Miller’s Guitar 101, with six-string aces Miller, Thompson and Tasjan, along with Luther Dickinson and Tom Bukovac; a tribute to the late Guy Clark, and a Shawn Mullins Variety Show, whatever that might entail. Several “and Friends” shows promise the interesting collaborations that Cayamo is known for. For those able to stay awake, three late-night “Last Man Standing” jams, hosted by fiddle wizard Luke Bulla, are slated for the Jade’s Atrium stage.

As if the music weren’t enough, there will also be a couple of port calls. The Jade will spend a day at Cozumel, off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and a day at Roatan, a Caribbean island that’s part of Honduras. Also available will be such shipboard activities as a songwriting class (Camp Copperhead at Sea) hosted by Steve Earle; three guitar workshops; a beer tasting hosted by Paul Thorn, and the popular Sand Art event with Kacey Musgraves. Passenger jams can be expected to continue far into the night, while early risers will have the option of joining Jim Lauderdale on the pool deck for morning T‘ai Chi.

Lari White’s “Old Friends, New Loves”

Americana Music News- Lari White, literally a star of stage, screen and recordings, has a new double-EP out called Old Friends, New Loves. We had the chance to talk with her about her new release on board Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise 2017.

Review: Kevin and Dustin Welch in concert

 By Paul T. Mueller

Dustin and Kevin Welch

Singer-songwriters Kevin and Dustin Welch (father and son, respectively) bring somewhat different approaches to the Americana table. Kevin’s songs and performing style tend toward the traditional, while Dustin’s are often edgier. Performing together February 4 at Houston’s Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, they complemented each other’s styles and reinforced each other’s energy, making for a highly enjoyable experience for the several dozen in attendance.

The Welches’ show, part of the church’s UniTunes Coffeehouse series, featured 17 songs, interspersed with commentary on how some of them came to be. Kevin Welch’s songs explored themes such as love, faith and doubt, usually in a straightforward way and accompanied by skillfully played acoustic guitar. Dustin’s songs were often less explicit; his father noted after one of his son’s songs that he had “no idea” what it was about. Mystery aside, Dustin sang with conviction, accompanying himself on acoustic and resonator guitars and banjo.

Some highlights:

  • Kevin’s “Millionaire,” an anthem to appreciating non-material blessings
  • “Marysville,” Kevin’s tribute to a small Australian town devastated by a wildfire in 2009
  • Dustin’s “Far Horizon,” an exploration of doubt and faith that featured a powerful, bluegrassy duet between Dustin’s banjo and Kevin’s guitar
  • Kevin’s “Heaven Now,” played by request but only after the singer had looked up his lyrics online
  • Dustin’s “Don’t Tell Em Nothin’,” a kind of post-crime tale that the singer dedicated to the criminal-defense attorneys in the audience
  • Kevin’s as-yet-unrecorded “The Flower,” told from the point of view of a teenage girl dealing with difficult circumstances and featuring some powerful slide guitar by Dustin on the resonator

Both Welches declared their gratitude for the audience’s attention (one fan drew laughs by mentioning that he’d skipped Taylor Swift’s pre-Super Bowl show in order to be there). They closed with Kevin’s “A Prayer Like Any Other,” a gentle request for divine oversight, co-written with Kieran Kane.

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