Review by Alex Moore
Varying playing styles and genres kept the show from growing stale through each of the three performances at Smith’s Olde Bar on Thursday, Aug. 22, as The Last Tycoon, Lowland Hum and Boo Ray took the stage, offering a stark but welcome contrast.
Rock-blues fusion group The Last Tycoon opened the show, providing an energetic start to the evening. The duo’s style proved simplistic but effective, as the minimalist aspect kept the focus on the lyrics and vocals. Vocalist John Gladwin’s skill as a songwriter quickly surfaced as, “Ballad of the Bloodstained Bible” and “Independence Day” delved into personal subject matter without sacrificing memorable melodies. The duo didn’t seem afraid of off-the-cuff experimentation, making song adjustments seemingly on the fly, such as their impromptu rendition of The White Stripes’ cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”
Next was North Carolina folk duo Lowland Hum, who adorned the stage with a handmade cloth banner recreation of their Native Air album cover. Even before the set began, it became apparent that Lowland Hum is a group meant to be experienced live, as the visuals shared equal importance with the music. Lauren Goan’s crystal-clear vocals sounded even better in a live environment than on record, particularly on, “Albatross,” “Twine,” and the group’s first single, “War is Over,” as her husband Daniel strummed along on his guitar. The duo’s creative approach to performing, such as offering the audience lyric booklets, set the group aside from many of their modern day peers. It is precisely this unique DIY style and creativity that will undoubtedly spell success for Lowland Hum in the future.
Finally, Tennessee’s Boo Ray offered a country twist to the folk overtones of the evening. Before beginning the set, the namesake front man thanked the audience for their patience, mentioning that the evening marked the first performance of his new backing band, dubbed The Sundown Gang, who rehearsed a mere two times before the evening’s performance. For a group who spent such little time rehearsing, the music was surprisingly tight. Randy Hess’ pedal steel guitar in particular was impressive, providing a signature twang to match the traditional country lyrics. As the group made small adjustments throughout the set, Ray frequently took time to thank the audience for their attendance and willingness to bear with the band as they tweaked songs, showing a genuine knack for crowd interaction. With a lengthy set full of improvisational jams and crowd requests, Ray and The Sundown Gang brought the evening to an end, adding their own memorable twist to each of the evening’s previous performance styles while leaving their own distinctive mark.