Tag Archives: Hank Williams

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A Willie Watson and Colter Wall Sing-Along at Rough Trade NYC

October 26th, 2017

Willie Watson and Colter Hall – Rough Trade NYC – October 25, 2017


Sometimes at a concert you get a real feel for what things were like back when. Sometimes it’s because of the room: Walk into Carnegie Hall or Village Vanguard and you are transported back through decades of New York City live-music history. Other times it’s the performers themselves who seem to transport you back to a past heyday. Last night at Rough Trade NYC featured two such performers who transported the crowd back in time, evoking a country and folk music of another era as if it were brand-new today.

Colter Wall is a Canadian singer from Saskatchewan who evokes a country music of a time gone by. He began his set solo, with just enough croak in his vintage voice and acoustic guitar, singing, “If I’m being truthful, I only live at night” and covering Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” like he’d written it on his way from Canada. He was joined by a band—mandolin, dobro, bass—and continued to mix old-school covers by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Hank Williams with originals from his self-titled debut that evoked the same spirit with a little updating along the way. A cover of Blaze Foley’s “Oval Room,” perfectly fit into the set and had the crowd whooping and hollering. Audiences will clap or sing along and this one did that aplenty, but the stomp along is a bit rarer and felt natural at several points during Wall’s performance—you could imagine yourself back when in a barn somewhere hearing murder ballads like his “Kate McCannon” and stomping along.

Willie Watson has a voice and a love for folk music and, let’s face it, a name that makes it easy to imagine sitting around a campfire or revival tent hearing gospel numbers and old-timey songs mixed with storytelling and off-center humor. He opened with “Take This Hammer,” his voice infused with a slight warble as he stretched out syllables, letting them fill the room. “If you know this one, sing along” seemed to be implied from the start of his set, and the crowd joined in as he worked his way through a musical time warp. Watson has been playing and touring and recording these old folk songs for years—his new album is simply and aptly titled Folk Singer Vol. 2—and he sings them possessed of their original spirit. Tunes like “Samson and Delilah,” “Gallows Pole” and “Midnight Special” in their original form before they were turned into modern-day rock songs were stripped to their original bare essence in Watson’s hands. Switching between guitar and banjo (giving the audience what he referred to as a proper dose of “vitamin B”), the set was both raucous and poignant. Like any good folk show, there were sing-alongs, like “Stewball,” and murder ballads, like “Frankie and Johnny,” and, of course, songs about the feats of John Henry. Through them all, Watson’s love for the music and performing it shined through, taking the audience to way back when for just one night. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

(Tonight’s Willie Watson and Colter Hall show at Mercury Lounge is sold out.)       

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The Cactus Blossoms Fill Mercury Lounge with Perfect Harmonies

February 19th, 2016

The Cactus Blossoms – Mercury Lounge – February 18, 2016

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“It’s the country in it, but really the harmonies,” a friend told me about the Cactus Blossoms. “Like Hank Williams crossed with the Everly Brothers.” High—and pressure-packed—praise, but in the case of the Cactus Blossoms, it was decidedly accurate. The Minneapolis duo of Page Burkum and Jack Torrey, brothers in life and in music, blend their voices and demonstrate a command of traditional country that, astonishingly, sounds nostalgic and modern, particularly live. They didn’t so much play a 70-minute headlining set as stop time for a little bit, hypnotizing a packed audience with bittersweet romances, sad-eyed waltzes, bristled cowboy songs and snatches of Western swing.

The Cactus Blossoms dipped expertly into Hank Williams (“Your Cheatin’ Heart”), Waylon Jennings (“Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”) and others, but let many of their own tunes carry the night, from “A Sad Day to Be You” and “You’re Dreaming” to “Powder Blue” and “Stoplight Kisses.” But he standout may have been “Queen of Them All,” a swooning ballad that turned into a deeply felt romantic declaration with a happy ending.

Why did this work so well? The brothers let those rich, blended singing voices breathe, underpinning gorgeous harmonies with only the necessary amount of electric and acoustic guitar accompaniment and the insistent but never overpowering rhythm work of upright bassist Andy Carroll and drummer Chris Hepola, rounding out a new touring lineup. You could feel the heart in it—the authenticity and appreciation for this form of Americana and the potency of voices and spare instrumentation, without tricks or embellishment. And if you missed it, they return next week. —Chad Berndtson | @cberndtson

(The Cactus Blossoms play Mercury Lounge again on 2/23.)

 

 

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Willie Nelson Brings Rowdy Outlaw Country Music to Brooklyn

August 13th, 2015

Willie Nelson & Family – Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell – August 12, 2015

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Willie Nelson & Family brought outlaw country music to Brooklyn last night, performing for a rowdy, sold-out crowd at Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell. With the opening notes of his 1973 song “Whiskey River,” an enormous Texas state flag unfurled behind the band, a tribute to the artist’s roots. With the Lone Star blazing behind them, Willie Nelson & Family tore through many of his most distinctive hits, including “On the Road Again” and “Always on My Mind,” with a loose, freewheeling energy.

“Let’s do one for Waylon,” announced Nelson, paying tribute to fellow outlaw countryman Waylon Jennings, as he performed “Good Hearted Woman,” encouraging the crowd to sing along during the chorus in a lively call-and-response. Jennings wasn’t the only artist to get a nod from Nelson, who also paid tribute to the likes of Hank Williams with a rendition of “Hey, Good Lookin’,” Merle Haggard with “It’s All Going to Pot” and Tom T. Hall with “Shoeshine Man.” Of course, Nelson, the longtime marijuana-legalization activist, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do “Roll Me Up” (a song that instructs: “And smoke me when I die”) to an overwhelmingly approving crowd.

Encouraging everyone to clap along, Nelson & Family finished the show with a version of the gospel hymn “I’ll Fly Away” before tossing his hat into the crowd and leaving. With Nelson’s talent and an abundance of outlaw spirit, it seems almost irrelevant to mention that he also happens to be 82, but then it makes him all the more impressive nonetheless, and Brooklyn was that much cooler in his presence. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

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Iron & Wine Play Career-Spanning Show at the Space at Westbury

June 27th, 2014

Iron & Wine – the Space at Westbury – June 26, 2014

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When you go see Iron & Wine, you know what you’re going to get but also don’t know what you’re going to get. Of course, there are going to be great songs, lots of them, overflowing with unique lyricism, imagery and melody, and you know you’ll have Sam Beam there to sing them to you. What you don’t always know is who will be playing with him, which will set the tone and style of the show. In past years, the sound has followed as Beam has toured with horns or backup singers or a stripped-down band. On Thursday night at the Space in Westbury, Beam played what he thought was his first show on Long Island proper, backed by a steady-as-she-goes roots-rock band that might be equally comfortable backing Bob Dylan these days, and the music followed suit.

The show opened with a terrific set from the Secret Sisters, out of Alabama, their vocal harmonies resonating to almost cosmic effect, while their backing band rumbled with soulful blues rock. The voices, the music, the set—which ranged across multiple styles of rock and roll, including covers of Hank Williams and their take on an unfinished Dylan piece—and the Sisters’ Southern charm easily won over the crowd. Beam and his band opened their career-spanning headlining set with a high-energy folk-shuffle version of “Boy with a Coin.” Banjo, acoustic guitar, organ, bass and drums nicely accented Beam’s agave-nectar natural-sweetener voice. The band flipped among instruments to widen the sound, Jim Becker moving from banjo to mandolin to acoustic-wired-electric guitar; Rob Burger moving from organ to Rhodes. Songs of exquisite beauty, like “House by the Sea,” with some nice double-acoustic guitar picking, led up to some momentum-building blues rock on songs like “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven.”

And while the band nicely worked the material, the set’s highlight was at the halfway point when Beam cast aside the extra musicians, first with a gorgeous duet with Burger on “Joy,” off his most recent album, Ghost on Ghost. This was followed by an all-request group of solo songs that stole the show. The enthusiastic crowd was up for the task, asking for some A-list material. All were great, but two songs stood out: First, Iron & Wine’s made-it-his-own, pure-light-and-good version of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” which certainly took away the breath from even the most cynical curmudgeon in the room. The poetic “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” was second, Beam’s voice shocking the not silenced easily audience into a silence beautiful in its absoluteness. The remainder of the show was a cascade of hits, featuring great versions of “Woman King,” “Rabbit Will Run” and the dark, slow build-to-climax encore of “Lovers Revolution.” It was a reminder of how many great songs Beam has to choose from, but really, no surprises there. —A. Stein