Muddy Magnolias/Mercury Lounge/August 23, 2016
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Jessy Wilson was working professionally in musical theater by the age of 10. While in her teens, Wilson sang backup for Alicia Keys, then worked four years with John Legend, and then will.i.am, Kanye West, Raphael Saadiq and Babyface before she began writing songs for American Idol‘s Fantasia Barrino and others. Wilson left New York in 2013 with aspirations of making history as an African-American female songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee. There she met Kallie North in 2014. North had lived in Texas and Mississippi, relocating to Nashville hoping to write country hits. Together they started writing what turned out to be country rhythm and blues songs, and there were no better singers to interpret them than themselves. Muddy Magnolias’ debut album, Broken People, will be released on October 14, 2016.
Showcasing with a mere 33-minute set tonight at the Mercury Lounge, Wilson and North demonstrated that opposites can create a perfect musical storm. Muddy Magnolias’ performance was born in familiar terrains, marrying the best of two formerly separate genres for a refreshing new spin. The country roots were as loud as the rhythm and blues was clear. Like rubbing two sticks together, they ignited heat. The two vocalists often sang separately, but frequently the choruses were electrified by gospel-rousing harmonies soaring to the heavens. The songs were as comfortable in a pickup truck as on the A train. Gutsy, rowdy and rocking, Muddy Magnolias proved that two traditions can be better than one.
Dori Freeman/City Winery/August 24, 2016
Dori Freeman is from Galax, Virginia, a tiny Appalachian town that hosts an annual old-time fiddlers’ convention that she has attended every year of her life. She grew up in a musical family; her grandfather is an artist and guitar player and her father is a multi-instrumentalist and music instructor. Appropriating the mountain traditions of old-time country, bluegrass and folk blues, Freeman began to play guitar at age 15 and started writing songs shortly thereafter. Both her father and grandfather contributed to her 2011 self-produced debut album, Porchlight. In late 2014, she contacted Teddy Thompson, who liked her music so much that he offered to produce her second album. The eponymous album was released on February 5, 2016.
Opening for Poundcake tonight at City Winery, Freeman performed a brief set of lilting ballads and folk songs that engaged her singer-songwriter approach while hugging her Appalachian background. She sang yearning homespun tales about love and loss without belting or otherwise demanding attention. The purity and the earnestness of her plain, simple delivery, along with her natural drawl and unaffected guitar strumming, were rich and charming. She played the rural troubadour well, bringing soft hill country sensibilities to a hard, sweltering city.
Poundcake/City Winery/August 24, 2016
Poundcake is a country roots cover band that was born in 2012 when drummer/vocalist Ethan Eubanks encouraged vocalist/guitarist Teddy Thompson to develop a side project between Thompson’s solo albums. Bassist/vocalist Jeff Hill was recruited because the three musicians had just spent nearly a year together touring on one of Thompson’s albums. The concept was that the trio would perform the music of the musicians they loved, primarily country and rock and roll artists of the early 1960s. Poundcake would play well-known songs but also seek out obscure gems from the Sun Studios era.
Teddy Thompson is a British folk rocker with a heart for Americana. As primarily vocalist and leader of Poundcake, he led the trio through songs by George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, Del Shannon and many others, keeping the old time sound without the commercial gloss. While the familiar songs were performed well and the deep cuts introduced old songs to new audiences, in the end, as with nearly all cover bands, the original versions were better. In short time, the show turned from concert to cabaret, as the three musicians engaged in light-hearted banter between every song, much of it poking fun at each other, to the point where this joking became as much the show as the music. This combination effortlessly could pilot an ongoing drive-time radio show.
Sarah Walk/Top of the Standard/August 25, 2016
In her native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sarah Walk took piano lessons as a child and began improvising and composing at age seven. By age nine, she began performing publicly, rapping with a friend at neighborhood concerts. Experiencing her first heartbreak as an adolescent, she began writing about personal experiences rather than the world around her. She later majored in music writing and composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Walk released a five-song EP, White Noise, in 2012, and soon will release her debut album. Walk is now based in London, England, and opened a tour for fellow Londoner Laura Mvula.
At the Top of the Standard, performing high above New York’s Meatpacking District amidst glorious views of nighttime skylines, Sarah Walk introduced songs from her upcoming album. Backed by a trio of musicians, Walk played piano on most songs, singing vocals that were accentuated and melodies that were accessible. The result was the delivery of a series of emotional, introspective compositions that opened a window to a discovering and perplexed heart. Walk’s mindset often seemed to be softly tender, yet striving for invulnerability. Musically mature beyond her 24 years, she veered far from lightweight pop ditties. Sarah Walk will capture hearts one by one.