About five years ago, actor Adrian Enscoe was busking at a New York City subway station when fellow actor and cellist Sydney Shepherd stopped to listen to his music. This happenstance evolved into a romantic and musical relationship. Shepherd’s college friend, musical collaborator, fellow actor, and multi-instrumentalist, Regina Strayhorn, later moved to New York and joined in the musical merrymaking. The trio became the Brooklyn-based Bandits on the Run, with the New York City subway system being the folk and pop band’s initial main stage. Expanding on the bandits theme, each took on an alias, Enscoe as Roy Dodger, Shepherd as Bonanza Jellyfish, and Strayhorn as simply Clarissa. Since then, the trio has scored films, performed in countless music clubs, and recorded original songs. Bandits on the Run released a debut album, The Criminal Record, in 2017. A Live at the Power Station four-song EP was released on August 16, 2019.
Bandits on the Run returned to Mercury Lounge and restaged the party atmosphere of the trio’s free public performances. Each member took a foundation of folk and gave it a lively pop spin for a clean sound bristling with familiar retro roots. As the songs’ arrangements dictated, Shepherd often bowed her cello, Enscoe played an acoustic guitar with his hands and a suitcase drum with his right foot, and Strayhorn played accordion and melodica. The three-part harmonies, forged in the hollow and echoing caverns of New York’s underground, proved riveting. With no synthesizers or backing tracks to fill the sound, the songs sounded fresh, honest, and homey. Uncluttered transferences from verses to choruses allowed the listener to enjoy the beauty of each instrument, requiring little imagination to hear how the sweetness of a cello, the frenzy of an accordion, or the joy of galloping three-part harmonies brought a minimalist symphony of sound to the hearts and souls of the listeners. Here, three musicians made robust music that popped and swayed. It surely would make any routine commute a lot more enjoyable.
The Wandering Hearts/Mercury Lounge/October 1, 2019
In 2015 in London, Tara Wilcox operated her own singing school and Tim Prottey-Jones was a multi-instrumentalist session musician, singer, and musical theater actor. The two met when they both performed at a music venue and discovered that they had similar musical inspirations and aspirations. As they started to sing together, friends introduced them to vocalist/guitarist A.J. Dean (formerly of the Bluejays) and vocalist/mandolin player Francesca “Chess” Whiffin, also a former musical theater performer. The acoustic alt-country/folk/pop quartet initially called itself the Paper Hearts and uploaded two songs onto the internet. Within 30 minutes, the group was “discovered,” and, within a month, the group had a recording contract. The band changed its name to the Wandering Hearts, recorded a debut album, began playing at festivals, and won the coveted Bob Harris Emerging Artist Award at the UK Americana Awards. The Wandering Hearts so far released one studio album, 2018’s Wild Silence.
Great Britain has its own folk music, but a rising number of British bands are following the steps of Mumford & Sons in embracing Americana music and giving it a pop veneer. The Wandering Hearts may be the next band to cross over. Headlining at Mercury Lounge, the quartet was equal parts back porch hoedown and Fleetwood Mac pop. Accompanied by two acoustic guitars, an occasional mandolin and a tambourine, the group’s big sound pivoted on sweet and seamless two, three, and four-part harmonies. Speedy finger-picking and joyful, rousing choruses then punctuated the songs. The arrangements were simple but were burnished for flawless perfection. Many of the current stateside Americana bands could pick up a few pointers from the Wandering Hearts.
Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi met in 1999 when she was the opening act for the Allman Brothers Band, in which Trucks was a guitarist. Tedeschi and Trucks married in 2001 yet maintained separate musical careers until they toured together in 2007 as Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi’s Soul Stew Revival. In 2010, Trucks and Tedeschi merged their respective groups to form the Tedeschi Trucks Band, based in Jacksonville, Florida. The Tedeschi Trucks Band’s debut album won the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Blues Album. The fourth and most recent studio album, Signs, was released on February 15, 2019. The Tedeschi Trucks Band presently consists of Tedeschi, Trucks, guitarist Mike Mattison, bassist Brandon Boone, saxophonist Kebbi Williams, trumpet player Ephraim Owens, trombonist Elizabeth Lea, drummers Tyler Greenwell and J. J. Johnson, and vocalists Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band’s ninth annual residency at the Beacon Theatre again consisted of six concerts over nine nights, with the unstated expectation that no two nights would be alike. This, the third night, saw guest performances by guitarist Eric Krasno (of Soulive and Circles Around the Sun), pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph (of Robert Randolph & the Family Band), jazz session guitarist Mark Whitfield, and keyboardist DeShawn Alexander (formerly of the Marcus King Band). In addition, keyboardist Gabe Dixon, formerly of the Gabe Dixon Band, has joined the band for the entire tour. Tedeschi’s bluesy, velvety vocals crooned at the beginning and end of most songs, and Trucks and Tedeschi both soared on standout guitar solos, but they did not hog the spotlight; much of the middle of the songs allowed the rest of the musicians to shine with extended jams and bright harmonies. The set was a tasty stew of upbeat roots, rock, and soul, bringing out the best of each musician in service of the song. As such, there seemed to be no confines for the jams, except that after more than two hours of music, it was time to close the theater.
Incubus/Radio City Music Hall/October 3, 2019
Vocalist Brandon Boyd, guitarist Mike Einziger, and drummer Jose Pasillas were in high school together when they formed Incubus in 1991 in Calabasas, California. Incubus carved its own road by merging the prevalent musical styles of the nineteen-nineties: funk, nu metal, alt-rock, progressive metal, pop, and trip-hop. Unlike the trends of that period, when many popular bands were testosterone-heavy and brooding in angst, Boyd stood out uniquely as the positive “sensitive guy.” Although the first few albums were largely ignored by the mainstream, Incubus eventually sold over 19 million albums worldwide. Incubus’ eighth and most recent album is 2017’s 8; in 2019 the band released a single from a forthcoming album that as yet has no title or release date. Incubus presently consists of Boyd, Einsiger, Pasillas, bassist Ben Kenney and turntable/synthesizer/keyboards player Chris Kilmore.
With no new album to promote, Incubus’ 2019 tour celebrated the 20th anniversary of Make Yourself, the album that rose the band out of obscurity and into double-platinum-selling status in 1999. At Radio City Music Hall, after screening a short documentary about Make Yourself, Incubus performed the 12 songs from the album plus six of the songs that later sustained the band’s career beyond the breakthrough album, and also a new song, “Into the Summer,” possibly from a forthcoming album. While all but the new song had considerable mileage, the crisp and loud delivery gave them the intensity and command of the original versions. The set started with the hard funk and heavy grunge of “Privilege,” immediately establishing that Boyd’s voice has remained a fine instrument over the years. Choppy guitar chords then gave way to turntable scratching; yes, some of the arrangements still sounded somewhat off-kilter and experimental. The new twists came in the form of Boyd singing a few lines of the Cars’ “Drive” within the Incubus song of the same name, and Incubus performing a slower and softer version of “Pardon Me.” Although the band was locked into reviving older songs, the band’s lively and energetic dynamic pointed to a trajectory of a still-creative future that will become public once the next album is completed.