Cayamo Day 3: Richard Thompson, John Prine, Rodney Crowell

By Paul T. Mueller

Legendary British folkie and guitar monster Richard Thompson played the first of his three sets at 1:00 p.m. Monday, Jan. 19, in the Norwegian Pearl’s Stardust Theater. Backing him in his Electric Trio were bassist Taras Prodaniuk and drummer Michael Jerome, and the result was for the most part a thunderous affair – too loud for at least a few attendees, in fact. But the musicianship was excellent as expected and the sound was clean, as the trio ripped through such Thompson favorites as “Sally B” (with a little Pete Townshend jump at the end), “You Can’t Win” (featuring an extended solo), the jazzy “Al Bowlly’s in Heaven,” and “Wall of Death,” another long jam. There were also some new songs – “Josephine” and “Amsterdam,” both acoustic tunes, and “Guitar Heroes,” a tribute to Thompson’s role models. Called back for an encore, Thompson showed his country side on “Tear Stained Letter.”

Rodney Crowell, a second-timer on the cruise, followed with an excellent set featuring guitarist Steuart Smith. Crowell opened with a new song, “East Houston Blues,” before moving on to more familiar territory, including “Sex and Gasoline,” “Moving Work of Art” and “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight.” He described the inspiration for a couple of songs dealing with HIV, both from his fine 2001 album The Houston Kid, and then played both – “I Wish It Would Rain,” mostly as a solo effort, and “Wandering Boy,” accompanied brilliantly by Smith. The anthemic “Still Learning How to Fly” and the sing-along favorite “Pancho and Lefty” followed, and Crowell finished with the moving “Til I Can Gain Control Again.”

Lyle Lovett’s Q & A show Monday at 5:00 was a mix of music and dry comedy. The questions, from audience members, covered such diverse topics as Lovett’s recovery from injuries suffered during a run-in with a bull some years ago (he had high praise for his doctors); his experiences as a young artist playing in New York; what it’s like to have legendary drummer Russ Kunkel in his band, and even a question about how he stays so fit, from guest vocalist Shawn Colvin. The music included a fine rendition of “Friend of the Devil,” which Lovett recorded with Kunkel for a 1991 Grateful Dead tribute album; “Sleepwalking,” in response to a question about its enigmatic writer, Willis Alan Ramsey, and the inevitable “If I Had a Boat.”

Monday evening’s “Blind Faith” show was one of the week’s highlights. Admission was restricted to Cayamo 2014 passengers who put down deposits on this year’s cruise before the lineup was announced. Monday’s performers, whose identity was kept secret right up until showtime, turned out to be veteran singer-songwriter John Prine and rising country star Kacey Musgraves. It was an inspired pairing – each brought an impressive list of songs and the chemistry between them was (to borrow a word from the loquacious Jim Lauderdale) palpable. Prine’s selections included “Spanish Pipedream,” “Fish and Whistle,” “One Red Rose” and “That’s the Way the World Goes Round” (complete with a funny story about a fan who misheard a lyric as “happy enchilada”). Musgraves’ offerings included “The Trailer Song,” “Merry Go ‘Round” and “Follow Your Arrow” and a couple of new songs, “Biscuits” and “Pageant Material.” Most were funny and all carried a serious message along with the wordplay. Prine and Musgraves teamed up on the Prine classics “In Spite of Ourselves” and “Angel from Montgomery,” but the best moment might have come when Musgraves sang her own “John Prine,” in which she confesses a desire to “burn one with John Prine,” and Prine followed with his pot paean “Illegal Smile,” with help from the audience on the choruses. It was a classic Cayamo moment. Prine closed the show with a nice rendition of his environmental anthem “Paradise.”

A quick visit to the pool deck found Lucinda Williams and her band finishing up their show with a soulful reading of Gregg Allman’s “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” followed by the rocking “Joy” and “Get Right with God.”

Soundcheck winner Amy Speace played the first of her three sets in the Spinnaker Lounge. She wisely brought along two of her East Nashville neighbors and friends, guitarist Tim Easton and fiddler Megan Palmer, and they did a fine job on such excellent tunes as “The Fortunate Ones,” “The Killer in Me” and “Hunter Moon.” Many of Speace’s lyrics deal with relationships, often troubled ones, and her sharp writing and world-class voice make for an emotionally moving performance. The seemingly omnipresent John Fullbright put in a guest appearance for the lovely “The Sea and the Shore.” Speace ended her set with “Hymn for the Crossing,” a funeral song, but one with a joyous message. “Don’t need a golden box for my bones/Don’t need your weeping and wailing,” Speace sang. “Don’t need my name carved into stone/Just sing me a hymn for the crossing.”

Atlanta-based singer-songwriter Michelle Malone has a reputation for being a fiery rocker, but she’s equally at home with quieter material. Toward the end of her Monday night Atrium show she performed a cool, jazzy take on the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” taken from the introspective Acoustic Winter album from last year. Things got livelier with the new song “When I Grow Up,” a fun and hopeful anthem; the Stratocaster-fueled “Teen Lament,” on which she got help from Black Lillies frontman Cruz Contreras and Alabama singer-songwriter Kristy Lee, and “Feather in a Hurricane.”

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