By Paul T. Mueller
On Thursday, Jan. 22, the Norwegian Pearl, having left St. Croix the previous evening, was heading north and west through the blue Caribbean, on the homeward leg of the Cayamo music cruise 2015.
Days at sea mean days with more music, and one of the first shows scheduled was Amy Speace’s 11:00 a.m. set in the Spinnaker Lounge. And an excellent set it was, beginning with the title song from 2013’s How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat.
“I come from a long line of sailors and priests,” Speace said by way of explaining the prevalence of nautical imagery in her songs. More of her sharply observed and carefully written songs followed, backed by Tim Easton’s guitar and Megan Palmer’s fiddle – “Ghost,” which she said was written for her grandparents; “The Killer in Me,” a song of dysfunctional love; “The Sea and the Shore,” a sad and beautiful ballad that Speace said was “No. 1 for about two weeks on the radio in Serbia – take that, Lyle Lovett!”, and the uplifting funeral song “Hymn for the Crossing,” which Speace said she wrote with Irish singer Ben Glover the day after Pete Seeger died. She closed with a heartfelt rendition of “The Fortunate Ones,” featuring Easton’s fine acoustic guitar.
Lucinda Williams played another fine set in the Stardust Theater beginning at 1:30. After opening with a solo acoustic rendition of “Passionate Kisses,” Williams brought out her band for a string of old and new tunes. These included “Metal Firecracker,” “Right in Time” and “Drunken Angel,” all from her breakout Car Wheels on a Gravel Road collection; “Cold Day in Hell,” a bluesy kiss-off song from the new album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone; “I Lost It,” featuring an excellent solo by guitarist Stuart Mathis; and “Are You Down,” featuring a jazzy intro and an instrumental break that drew applause from Willliams herself. Other highlights were a duet with Jim Lauderdale on “Jailhouse Tears,” a stark, almost harsh reading of “Unsuffer Me,” and rocking treatments of “Essence,” “Joy” and “Get Right with God.” “This goes out to all of you,” Williams told the crowd before launching into a vigorous romp through Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
Shawn Colvin’s 3:00 p.m. show in the Spinnaker consisted of well-chosen and beautifully executed covers. With stellar assistance from guitarist and part-time Eagle Steuart Smith, Colvin more than did justice to songs including Steve Earle’s “Someday,” Graham Nash’s “I Used to Be a King,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher than the Rest” and the Eagles’ “The Best of My Love.” Reportedly also performed, but not witnessed by this reviewer, were renditions of The Band’s “Acadian Driftwood,” Emmylou Harris’ “Red Dirt Girl,” Tom Waits’ “Hold On” and several others.
Tim Easton and Megan Palmer played a third “guerrilla set” in Bar City at 5:00 p.m. This time, Palmer divided her time between fiddle and piano, another instrument on which she is quite proficient. Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and Easton’s “Don’t Lie” found Palmer at the keyboard and Bruce Lebovitz, a passenger and an accomplished player, taking over the fiddle duties. Palmer and Lebovitz brought a twin-fiddle approach to a couple of songs, including “Factory Girl.” Easton took over the piano for a rendition of his “Festival Song,” featuring a snippet of “Come Together” and some lyrics customized for Cayamo, and singer-songwriter Nellie Clay joined the group for her “Wichita Was a Bust.” The set closed with a rousing take on Big Bill Broonzy’s “How You Want Your Rollin’ Done,” again featuring Palmer on the piano.
Todd Snider drew a big crowd to his 6:30 show on the pool deck, backed by Elizabeth Cook’s band plus guitarist Jason Wilber from John Prine’s band. Seemingly as much at ease in the daylight as at midnight, Snider put on a loose and funny show, with more music and fewer stories than at his show the night before. The set included originals such as “The Last Laugh,” “Is This Thing Working?,” “Easy Money” and “Good News Blues.” There were also some fine covers, including the blues classic “I’m Ready,” “Enjoy Yourself,” Texas singer-songwriter Rusty Wier’s “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance” and Huey “Piano” Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia” and “Sea Cruise.” Snider dedicated his last song, “Come from the Heart,” to Texas songwriter Guy Clark and Clark’s late wife, Susanna, who wrote the song with Richard Leigh.
The Black Lillies came to their 8:30 set in the Atrium ready to rock and ready to bring the crowd with them. They brought plenty of energy and excellent musicianship to their own songs, including “Smokestack Lady” and “40 Days and 40 Nights” (an account of the band’s first national tour), and to covers including the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up, Little Susie” and the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed” (with Michelle Malone plus two band members, Trish Land on tambourine and Ben Holst on guitar).
Seattle-based band The Dusty 45s kept the Atrium rocking during their 10:30 set, with charismatic front man Billy Joe Huels pushing the pace with almost unbelievable energy. With Huels alternating between guitar and trumpet, the band ripped through some older material – “Devil Takes His Turn,” “Why Darlin’ Why” – and newer songs such as “Chase Your Dream,” “Two Beers in Texas,” “32 Quarters” and “Walking in the Rain.” There were also some nicely done covers, including Herb Alpert’s “A Taste of Honey,” John Prine’s “Glory of True Love,” the 1930 tune “Bye Bye Blues” (dedicated to guitarist Jerry Battista’s father) and “Misirlou,” made famous by surf-rock king Dick Dale.
As Thursday turned into Friday, the “Throwback Throwdown” got cranked up on the Pearl’s pool deck. A large cast of musicians, loosely led by Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, spent the next 90 minutes or so doing honor to songs from the past. Highlights included Paul McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It,” getting the soul treatment from St. Paul and the Broken Bones; Fats Domino’s “I Lived My Life,” featuring Miller and Lucinda Williams; Jim Stafford’s “Swamp Witch,” performed with appropriate drama by Shawn Mullins; a convincing rendition of Loretta Lynn’s “You’re Lookin’ at Country” by Kacey Musgraves; Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away,” sweetly done by The Lone Bellow; Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” featuring the powerful vocals of Humming House’s Leslie Rodriguez and nice guitar by Davis Causey, and the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” by the Black Lillies. John Fullbright showed his range with a powerful take on Townes Van Zandt’s “Lungs” and a quieter rendition of Jimmy Webb’s “If You See Me Getting Smaller,” which left the often raucous pool deck in dead silence. The big finale was an all-hands-on-deck jam of the traditional blues “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad.”