Mountain Stage’s October 17th concert featured Adam Haworth Stephens of Two Gallants, Lost in the Trees, Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore, Alejandro Escovedo, and The Felice Brothers. I reviewed the show for a local newspaper, so I initially didn’t intend to write about it here. But I do enjoy rambling about good music, so here’s an expanded review with more details that pesky newspaper word count wouldn’t allow me to include…
A small but very enthusiastic crowd greeted Sunday night’s Mountain Stage performers.
During the standard pre-show announcements and applause rehearsal, host Larry Groce jokingly blamed the controversial John Raese ad for his casual attire.
For the first time in the show’s history, Mountain Stage engineer Francis Fisher didn’t condemn the audience’s first attempt at cued “spontaneous applause.” He actually said it was “ok.” Groce look visibly disturbed and I know I was! Thankfully, Fisher still requested the usual second practice session and all was well with the world again.
Two Gallants singer Adam Haworth Stephens gave the show a solid start with chiming, harmonica-accented songs from his folk-rock solo debut, We Live on Cliffs. The album features members of My Morning Jacket, Blood Brothers and Vetiver.
Stephens’ voice is similar to labelmate Bright Eyes and to be honest, he sometimes sounded like he was being strangled. But that didn’t matter, because his songs and particularly his Sufjanesque arrangements were grand. He promised at the beginning of his set that he was “gonna get gradually louder as the night proceeds” and he stayed true to his word. For a lil blonde indie guy, Adam Haworth Stephens sure put on a good rock concert.
Wheeling native Mollie O’Brien dueted with Mountain Stage singer Julie Adams on a Robert Randolph tune, and Adams later joined O’Brien and her guitarist husband Rich Moore on stage for their set.
Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore were a big hit with the locals. After twenty-seven years of marriage, the folk duo has finally released their debut studio recording, Saints & Sinners. The album includes a wide range of genres, instrumentation, and musical styles. Whether singing their own original songs or covering classics by Tom Waits, Jesse Winchester, Harry Nilsson, and George Harrison, the supercouple liven things up with splashes of jazz, blues, gospel, and cabaret.
However, it was North Carolina folk orchestra Lost in the Trees that dazzled the crowd during the first hour with their enchanting, multi-instrumental circus. Their latest release All Alone in An Empty House blends folk and acoustic pop melodies with lush orchestral arrangements.
Larry Groce called the band “a cast of thousands” and not since The Low Anthem have I seen so many instruments on one stage. Horns, strings, an accordion…Lost in the Trees had it all.
Singer and accordion player Emma Nadeau’s haunting wail melted beautifully with the band’s string section and drove the quiet melody of their first song up to chill-producing heights. Other songs made fuller, more rhythmic use of the entire orchestra.
Composer Ari Picker charmed the audience by temporarily abandoning the radio microphone to “connect” with them before leading them in a pretty sing-a-long. Theirs was probably my favorite set of the night, which was quiet a feat considering the rest of the lineup. I urge everyone to see Lost in the Trees live if you have the opportunity.
Texan singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo and his band, The Sensitive Boys, kicked off the second hour. Alejandro Escovedo is a favorite in my household and I’ve reviewed several of his albums over the years.
A legend in the folk community, he was named “Artist of the Decade” by No Depression magazine and deemed “his own genre” by Rolling Stone. He counts among his more famous fans Ryan Adams, Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Calexico, director Jonathan Demme and, to Escovedo’s consternation, former president George W. Bush.
Escovedo began his musical career as a punk-rock guitarist in the 1970s and his band The Nuns once opened for The Sex Pistols. He gradually moved through rock and country during the decades that followed before experimenting with a mixture of Americana, folk, and rock in the 1990s. Embellishing thunderous rock arrangements with delicate classical instrumentation, poignantly personal lyricism, and a heartfelt vocal style, Escovedo created his own beautifully distinctive sound.
Escovedo’s magnificent set was heavy on the noise, centering on songs from his recently released tenth solo album, Street Songs of Love. “Anchor” depicts love as a weight that may hold a person down, but also prevents them from drifting away. The instrumental “Fort Worth Blue” is a tribute to musician Stephen Bruton — a longtime collaborator of Kris Kristofferson and former Mountain Stage guest. Escovedo also played two songs co-written with Chuck Prophet: “Down in the Bowery,” which was affectionately inspired by Escovedo’s angry, punk-lovin’ teenage son, and “Always a Friend” from his previous release, Real Animal.
As the unofficial headliners of the evening, The Felice Brothers provided a fantastic finale. As I said in my review of their 2008 self-titled album, their music is “full of haunting beauty, wild tales, and eerie anachronism.” Their last two albums spanned American history from The Wild West to The Great Depression.
The band played several songs from The Felice Brothers album, including “Wonderful Life,” “Saint Stephen’s End,” “Love Me Tenderly,” and “Goddamn You, Jim” – during which James Felice played the hell out of his accordion.
They also played “Run Chicken Run” from 2009’s less impressive effort Yonder Is The Clock.
The Felice Brothers’ skilled musicianship, on-stage chemistry, and lead singer Ian Felice’s gritty, Dylanesque vocals made even the most somber of their songs an enthralling live experience.