VOCAL Showcase Review – October 18, 2010
231st consecutive showcase!
Markiss Blowfish (Mark Branch) and Chuck Kerwath opened the show with a wonderful dose of blues to please the crowd. The two musicians met through VOCAL and have collaborated since then, with Chuck recording Mark’s new CD “Come Along With Me”. Chuck accompanied Mark with a cool “dobro-ish” acoustic slide guitar on their first number “Hard Times”. This song was the 2010 VOCAL Song of the Year (when your bag’s unpacked, nothing to eat, holes in your shoes, paying child support, hard times indeed!) “Betty Lou” followed with Chuck on lead acoustic guitar (she’s from the South – my kind of girl – what am I supposed to do? – she had a glow – with blue eyes). The duo followed with “Tumbleweed Rag”, an instrumental with Mark on harmonica and Chuck tickling the open strings of his guitar. This was a free-spirited number, and I could picture myself traveling down a peaceful country road with this song playing in my ear. The title track “Come Along With Me” was next, which was reminiscent of a B.B. King style – I’ll buy you diamonds and rubies, lunch and dinner with fine wine – meet me down behind the old oak tree. “Messin’ With Her” tells us he couldn’t eat or sleep all week because he’d been messin’ with her – they had been very discreet, found a place to be alone, until he came home… They finished out their set with “Honey-Do Man” with Chuck doing the honors on lead guitar again. Don’t ask me to do all these things – spend all my money, honey – don’t tell me to take my pressure pill or to turn the other cheek.
Russell Lawson then took the stage, joined by Dave Berry on fiddle and guitar. Russell treated us to some fine homespun tunes with topics ranging from prison songs to tunnel collapses (not while tunneling out of prison…). He led off with “Certain Freedom”, a “minor-key prison song” about a murderer on death row dreaming about a certain freedom once his debt is paid. “At the edge of moonlight, out past the razor wire, freedom’s like a river racing quiet through the night, far beyond the walls of tempered steel and stone around the place that murder made my home”. “Whole Lotta Gone” brings us a John Prine-ish tale of a cold-hearted former lover who turned from good to bad – “I thought that I could change you and I got what I deserved”. “Days Gone By” is a somber reflection of a loved one with a troubled life, with hope waiting in the wings, a story many of us can relate to – “get on your knees and lift your voices high, ‘cause there’s a place above where every tear is dried”. Dave swapped his fiddle for the guitar on “Swell”, a story of being overwhelmed by someone’s love, to the point that you’re fearful and cannot comprehend its power “if you would love me just a little, my heart might never touch the ground, but you pour in me like a river, so deep I feel I’m gonna drown”. Yes, you can get too much of a good thing! “Church Hill Tunnel” recounts the story of the collapse of the railroad tunnel that ran to Church Hill in Richmond, where many workers rode the rails to the end of their lives. The tunnel was sealed for safety, but the story is still alive and well. This song won 2nd place in a recent lyric contest in American Songwriter Magazine, quite an honor for Russell! Russell’s wife Katherine joined him on his last “country breakup” number, “Where are Your Tears”. As we’re on the verge of a breakup, where are the tears you said you’d shed if it ever came to this? Was your love really true, or were you faking it all these years? “I could change the wine, but I couldn’t quench your thirst”. Russell and Katherine ended the song with some beautiful a cappella harmony!
The headline performer, Bill Wellons, then took the stage, and was joined by John Ellis on guitar, Larry Cody on bass, and his son, Todd, on drums. “Long, Long Time Ago” recounts the good old days when things were more carefree and innocent (The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Age of Aquarius had not yet arrived). In light of today’s new stories, those good old days do seem like long, long ago. His next solo piano piece was untitled, but I felt I could be listening to a movie score or taking a helicopter ride through a pristine river valley with the feeling it conveyed. “Some Other World” brought out John Ellis on guitar, and the synthetic French horn sounds from Bill’s piano. This is an optimistic story of hope, where it would be great if “everyone cared, no one was angry, no one scared”. “Hurricane” followed with the band of John, Larry, and Todd. This is a colorful blues song about life along the river “my mom gave birth to me in this room, my daddy and granddaddy were born here too”. “Lickety-Split” was an up-tempo instrumental that I thought was reminiscent of the Allman Brothers of my yesteryear. Those familiar tones were pleasant music to my ears! Jack the hound dog was featured in “Doggone Blues”. He chewed up my sweater, peed on the petunias, doesn’t come when I call him, and even bit the FedEx man! Bad dog! John Ellis played some bad-dog electric slide guitar worthy of harmonious hound-howling on this song! John Ellis’ song “Blues # 1” was featured next, with Larry “Stanley Clark” Cody on the driving bass. I detected possibly some AC/DC influences in this song, and perhaps a dash of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”. “The Old Folks” is probably my favorite Bill Wellons song. It openly deals with the effects of war, but it is not an in-your-face protest song nor a lethal “call-to-arms” anthem. It simply tells it like it is, the “old man sitting in the old folks home, his wife got sick, now he’s all alone”. Their son Sam won a lot of medals in Viet Nam, but that damn war took their boy away. The next number, “Better Stay in Tonight”, is an all-too-familiar story about someone who feels like a prisoner within their own house – “lock the deadbolt, draw the drapes, the government just makes this worse”. I’d move out if I could – I hate this neighborhood. The finale was “Dueling No-Banjos”, another hard-driving instrumental featuring John on lead guitar, Larry on bass, and Todd on drums. Bill delivered the organ sounds of some of the early Allman Brothers tunes, and they really rocked the house with their closing number. The crowd called for more, but the group had exhausted their repertoire, so we’ll just have to wait until their next performance to satisfy our appetite!
– Steve Nuckolls