Influenced by their dad’s record collection before they were teens, Henry Stansall (lead vocals/acoustic guitar) and his younger brother Rupert Stansall (lead guitar/backing vocals) were blending vocals in a way that recalled American artists from the early 1960s. At ages 11 and 12, they would rehearse in the family kitchen in Scunthorpe, England, and then ask local pub owners if the duo could entertain tipsy late-night patrons with their renditions of old songs. After college, hoping to enter a bigger world of music, the duo moved to London, conflated portions of their first names to create a new amalgam-created moniker, the Ruen Brothers, and recorded original music in the studio apartment they shared. Their demos and homemade videos led to radio play, then a 2015 EP, and now a debut studio album, All My Shades of Blue, was released on June 1, 2018.
Headlining at the Mercury Lounge, the Ruen Brothers opened with two covers that gave a taste of what was forthcoming, the folk traditional “Mama Don’t” and Hank Cochran‘s 1963 country crooner “Make the World Go Away.” Accompanied by a drummer, the rest of the set was comprised of original songs that drew from vintage country, rockabilly and throwback rock and roll sources. Most impressive were the sibling harmonies that recalled the Everly Brothers backed by Buddy Holly-like rhythms. From romantic ballads to stirring rock and rollers, the Ruen Brothers captured the spirit of a bygone era and gave the set a tasteful shot of new youthful vibrancy. The Ruen Brothers proved to be a sharp act ready for a rock and roots revival.
Kelly Willis/The Loft at City Winery/June 5, 2018
Born in Lawton, Okla., a nine-year-old Kelly Willis began singing as a way to comfort herself after her parents divorced. Her father was a U.S. Army colonel so, after the divorce, Willis and her siblings moved around the country to accommodate his assignments. She spent her middle school years in North Carolina and her high school years in Annandale, Virginia. One day during a high school visit to the beach, she entered a nearby pay recording booth and sang Elvis Presley‘s “Teddy Bear.” Willis’ recording impressed her then boyfriend, drummer Mas Palermo; his rockabilly band recruited the 16-year-old as lead vocalist and renamed the band Kelly Willis & the Fireballs. After Willis’s high school graduation, the band relocated to Austin, Texas, but then disintegrated a few months later. Willis and Palermo, married in 1989, formed a short-lived rockabilly band called Radio Ranch; they divorced in 1991. Willis launched a solo career, and in 2011 she and her second husband, Bruce Robison, began singing as a duo. Willis released Back Being Blue, her seventh solo album and first solo album in 11 years, on May 18, 2018.
At the Loft at City Winery, a new 150-seat venue above City Winery, Willis sang old-style country western and chatted genially with the audience between songs, sharing anecdotes about the composition’s origins. Willis’ performance embraced the era before Nashville discovered the power ballad to refine the heartache-meets-honky-tonk inclination of the more traditional breed of country music. While many lyrics touched on the pains of life, her projection affected joyful nuances with a rich southern twang in her soprano vocals. Much of her past catalog included rockabilly and outlaw inflections, however, and these were largely missing in tonight’s showcase. While her performance was quite pleasant, it would have been more uniquely expansive if she had balanced more rockabilly and outlaw elements into her soft-rocking set.
Marcia Ball/Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2/June 6, 2018
Born in Orange, Texas, raised in nearby Vinton, La., Marcia Ball played piano from age five, playing old Tin Pan Alley and popular music tunes from her grandmother’s collection. At age 13, she discovered blues and soul music in New Orleans, and this formed her style of playing. She played in a blues-based rock band called Gum while in college and in 1970, at age 21, she started a progressive country band called Freda and the Firedogs in Austin, Texas. The band split in 1974 and Ball began her solo career, playing clubs in and around Austin, Houston and Louisiana. She has recorded 12 studio albums and additional collaborations. She has won 10 Blues Music Awards and 10 Living Blues Awards, and has been inducted into the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, and the Austin Music Hall of Fame. The Texas State legislature named her the official 2018 Texas State Musician. On Oct. 25, 2018, Ball will be inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame. Her most recent album, Shine Bright, was released on April 20, 2018.
Ball and her band performed two sets at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2, and blended an amalgam of southern roots music into her original songs. Her fingers played a rollicking barrelhouse and boogie woogie, but her saucy voice came from a smoldering Texas blues. Her band added to the Gulf Coast regional flavors, playing stomping roadhouse grooves. Ball’s husky vocals gave a swampy feel to the few ballads in the set. Together Ball and her band ignited a rhythm and blues set fit for a Mardi Gras party, especially when they encouraged a sing-along on a new song, the tongue-in-cheek “Life of the Party.”
Tatiana DeMaria/Mercury Lounge/June 6, 2018
Tatiana DeMaria is best known as the vocalist/guitarist of TAT, the punk band she formed in 2003 when she was a 15-year-old living in London, England. As a child DeMaria moved with her family to Paris, France, where she developed a love of punk rock. She returned to London as a teenager and started playing guitar and writing songs. She played in several high school bands until she formed TAT (originally named The Camden Whigs). Aside from TAT, she began working behind the scenes in the soundtrack and jingles industry in 2011. She began performing as a solo performer in 2017 with concerts at Rockwood Music Hall and the Bowery Electric. Her solo debut, the TKTK EP, is planned for a Fall 2018 release after her participation in a Warped tour.
Tatiana DeMaria retained her punk personality at Mercury Lounge, but her music seemed to have shifted to a tough pop genre. DeMaria took a confident stance for most of her set, playing her guitar with one foot upon a stage monitor and shaking her mane of long, black hair. She sang with a strong voice that emoted angst and rebellion as each song built tension and release like a sudden storm. Her fearless and ferocious projection only highlighted the subtle vulnerability articulated in her lyrics. Midway through her set, her band watched as she strapped on an acoustic guitar and paced through the audience for a mini solo set that throbbed with equal parts passion and power. This may be pop, but it surely was not lightweight.