Tonight is the second monthly Scruffy City Roots show at the Square Room. It starts at 7:00, but you need to be there early if you’d like to sit in a chair (recommended). I’ll be there and I’d love to see you. This musical occasion seems like a great opportunity to talk about a much older and more established downtown Knoxville music tradition: The Blue Plate Special.
About a week ago I really needed some rest. The launch of the new webpage was keeping me up past midnight and work was getting me up at 5:00. I can do it for a few nights in a row, but then I start to struggle. Additionally, I’d heard Joan Osborne was playing the Blue Plate. I could hardly believe it, but I checked and, yes, it was that Joan Osborne. Then I saw HuDost would be on the same show. I’d previously seen their show at Preservation Pub and they are an absolutely unique blast.
So, I took the day off, slept in, and not long after breakfast walked to the radio station. It was very good that I was there an hour early because the crowd was growing even by then. I got to hear the brief sound checks by both groups and settled in for the hour-long show.
HuDost opened with a half-hour of their all-over-the-map Americana/Eastern European/Middle-Eastern/Indian music. The sound is anchored by the vocals and harmonium playing of Moksha Sommer. Her exquisite vocals flow comfortably from melodic Americana to re-workings of Middle-Eastern folk songs. It’s indie music, it’s world music, but mostly it’s just their own blend of world-folk. It’s hard to discuss their genre without the use of hyphens. The core duo also includes Jemal Wade Hines’ vocals and pyrotechnic guitar work and his menagerie of electronica.
They also added a member for a few shows (and I hope for even more). I was surprised to see Melissa Hyman who I’d first seen the same night I first saw HuDost, but she was playing in a duo called Ten Cent Poetry with Chelsea Labate. Ten Cent Poetry was asked to join HuDost for some shows, and when Chelsea could not, Melissa signed on. Her cello was an excellent addition to their sound as were her quirky vocals and her radiant warmth as a person which comes across both on and off stage. This was their second performance together with no time for rehearsal and she nailed a song in Romanian which she said she’d learned phonetically from the recording.
Joan Osborne had a much more traditional sound, if not necessarily the one most people associate with her name. I love her song “One of Us,” but I haven’t heard much about her in recent years. It turns out she has recently returned to her roots: blues and rhythm and blues she sang in bars before securing a recording contract. Her new recording, “Bring it On Home” was released about two weeks before this performance, so she and the band are very excited about the songs.
The songs range from straight blues such as tracks by Sonny Boy Williamson (Bring It On Home) and Muddy Waters (I Want to be Loved) to the soulful R and B of Al Green (Rhymes) and Otis Redding (Champagne and Wine), and the set list for this show stuck to the new material. I really loved the slower songs, though “Shake Your Hips” was fun, “Champagne and Wine” loomed large in my memory for days.
Joan’s vocals have never been silky smooth, always having a little extra texture to add to a song. I love her performance of “Man in a Long Black Coat,” for an example from her early work. If anything her vocals have become even more soulful with age. She said that she feels that she is ready to these songs as they should be done and her performance bore that out.
Her band was as good as you might expect, with solid performances all around. You might want to give the new songs a listen. If you like blues or rhythm and blues, it’s hard to see how you could miss with this one. I’ll post a couple of videos below for your viewing and listening pleasure.
As for my day off, well, after hanging around WDVX for a bit after the show, I walked to Coffee and Chocolate and worked on the blog for the next four hours before walked to Union Avenue Books for a poetry reading by R.B. Morris. Not a bad day, I must say.