Shovels & Rope/Bowery Ballroom/October 18, 2016
Cary Ann Hearst was born in Mississippi and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, until 1997 when she enrolled in college in Charleston, South Carolina. While in school, she began performing as a solo artist in local venues. After graduating she toured, recorded and performed with various groups. Michael Trent was born in Texas and was raised in Denver, Colorado, but in 2002 relocated to Charleston, where he performed with his band the Films. Hearst released her first solo album in 2006 and Trent released his first solo album in 2007. In 2008 Hearst and Trent teamed for an album called Shovels & Rope, not intending to become a permanent duo. Hearst and Trent married in 2009 and continued to perform and record solo albums. In 2012, the pair committed to their joint venture and released an album together under the Shovels & Rope moniker. By 2013, the duo had won two Americana Music Association awards. The band’s fifth joint album, Little Seeds, was released on October 7, 2016. Hearst and Trent have a year-old daughter and raise chickens at their home on Johns Island, South Carolina.
Shovels & Rope is simply Hearst and Trent, alternately playing guitars and drums with some keyboards and mandolin thrown in, and so at the Bowery Ballroom the engaging beauty of the music was its raw, loose and scrappy basement sound. The two musicians shared more than instruments as they blended traditional folk, country, bluegrass, rock and roll, and cowpunk for an eclectic stew. Most songs were sung in unison, sounding somewhere between Johnny Cash with June Carter, X and Lucius. Both musicians intertwined their distinctive voices and yet their vocal chemistry originated from a shared intimacy, a special harmonization that allowed them on softer songs to sing from the same microphone as if they were romancing each other. The performance captured a joy-filled front-porch hootenanny feel. Opener Matthew Logan Vasquez of Delta Spirit joined Shovels & Rope on one song.
Foy Vance/Bowery Ballroom/October 20, 2016
Foy Vance was born in Bangor, Ireland, but during his formative years his family relocated with his preacher father to Oklahoma, Alabama and other parts of America’s Deep South. There he was exposed to the rich music of America’s heartland, a passion he developed and remained with him when he moved back to the United Kingdom (after some time in London, England, he now lives in Aberfeldy, Scotland). Vance began writing songs that combined elements of Irish folk music with American roots music. His career in music was a slow brew, however, with Vance recording his first album at age 32 and his second at age 38. These albums led to tours and strong professional relationships with the much older Bonnie Raitt and the much younger Ed Sheeran. Vance released his third studio album, The Wild Swan, on May 13, 2016, which led to summer tours with Elton John and Josh Groban.
Headlining at the Bowery Ballroom, the flatcap-wearing, twirling-mustached Vance unveiled his reflections on life as he heartily sang his story-filled lyrics while playing piano and guitar. Backed by a softly-playing band, Vance’s strength was in how he belted songs to a meditative background. Often, his vocal thrust and the bending of syllables coincidentally recalled another Irish singer-songwriter, Van Morrison. More evident, however, was his genuine appreciation of American blues, folk and country, which birthed a homespun sound that sometimes climbed to sing-along power choruses. It may not be long before Foy Vance is known as more than Ed Sheeran’s opening act.
Kadhja Bonet/Ludlow House/October 21, 2016
Kadhja Bonet and her five siblings were raised in the East Bay area of San Francisco, California, where their opera singer father and cellist mother steeped them in classical music. Kadhja (pronounced “kah-dya”) and her siblings learned to play instruments. Kadhja mastered violin and viola, and learned flute and guitar. During her college years, she jumped from long distance runner to film student to recording artist in short time. Relocating to Los Angeles, California, her genre-defying music generated a strong local buzz. She recorded and releasing her songs online one by one until she finally had enough songs to release an EP in 2015. Her debut album, The Visitor, was released on October 21, 2016.
Performing a brief set tonight at the exclusive members-only Soho House Ludlow, Bonet was accompanied by two musicians who played various instruments. Although herself a multi-instrumentalist, she delivered solely at the microphone on the very dimly-lit stage, often singing with her eyes closed. Her performance was soft and slow, mixing originals with cover tunes including the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Her vocals were a velvety, airy pillow-talk, sometimes leaning towards a folky pop and sometimes a soulful jazz. The difference between her music and a lot of the current neo-soul artists is that most of those rising artists are accompanied by electronic waves of sound and Bonet has chosen to back her mellow sound with the richness of natural instruments. This should get Bonet some special attention.
Delbert McClinton/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/October 22, 2016
Delbert McClinton was born in Lubbock, Texas, but at age 11 relocated with his family to Fort Worth, Texas. There, he played in a bar band, the Straitjackets, who backed several blues legends including Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Jimmy Reed. McClinton in 1962 played harmonica on Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby,” and on a British tour with Channel, McClinton instructed John Lennon on blues harmonica. Relocating to Los Angeles in 1972, McClinton partnered with fellow Texan Glen Clark to record two country-soul albums, then launched a solo career. Although now based in Nashville, Tennessee, McClinton was inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011. The three-time Grammy Award winner will release his 25th studio album, Prick of the Litter, on January 27, 2017.
The 76-year-old country blues rocker headlines at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill two or three times a year, and each time proves that he is still a leader in his ever-shrinking field. While his voice has weathered over the years, tonight it was as stirring and convincing as ever. McClinton sang, played harmonica, and led his band through robust blues rock jams and barreling country honky-tonk tunes, filling out his original songs with guitar, organ and horn runs. As usual, McClinton ended his 90-minute set with his one Top 40 hit single, “Givin’ It Up for Your Love.” The house had been rocked.