Published on May 20th, 2013 | by Prisha Verrier0
Reviews: Notes from the Solas and Ryan Bingham Shows
Ryan Ryan Bingham
Music Farm, May 14
Standing outside of the Music Farm on Tuesday evening, I enjoyed the warm breeze and sent a text message as a petite, older man with shaggy white hair asked me who was playing that night. “Ryan Bingham,” I replied. When the name elicited no reaction, I continued. “You know, Grammy winner? Won an Academy Award a few years back for the theme song to this sad movie? Kinda folksy, kinda country?” “So it should be a pretty good show,” the man said with a smile. He then turned on his heel, walked up the brick steps to the Farm, and disappeared inside.
The next time I saw that man was about two hours later, when he was onstage shredding the fiddle as part of Bingham’s backing band.
A little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, they kicked out a roaring performance from the first wild strum of that fiddle. The bass throbbed like a thump in the chest, sounding as much a part of any Marshall Tucker song as it could have paired with Lenny Kravitz. Bingham and his guitarist traded duties on lead, showing off a grand scope of sound that covered everything from distorted, fuzzbox solos to slide guitar tremolo, and all of the dusty landscape in between.
Bingham’s voice, as intriguing as it was unexpected, was wise beyond the singer’s 32 years — a deep throaty croon channeling the likes of Dylan circa Time Out of Mind. Donning black Converse, worn jeans, and a black fedora, Bingham resembled half of the people in the audience; but on stage, strapped to his guitar and pouring his soul into the mic, he commanded the room.
“We’re gonna see if we can get psychedelic on you,” the Texas-raised songwriter said before leading the band into a heavily grooved rendition of “Bluebird” from his 2009 release Roadhouse Sun. The fiddle howled, the guitars wailed, and the bass dredged through the sea of crash cymbals emanating out from the drum kit.
The unsung hero of the entire show was, perhaps, Bingham’s drummer, who kept the train on its tracks, even when songs reached an impossibly fevered pitch, holding the show steady with tight fills and bright, clean rim shots.
The set featured songs from throughout Bingham’s career, including his time with and since departing his original group The Dead Horses, with tracks such as the mournful “Southside of Heaven” from 2007’s Mescalito, the despairing love song “Depression” from 2010’s Junky Star, and the fiery “Guess Who’s Knocking” from his latest album Tomorrowland. What was decidedly left off of the set list was “The Weary Kind,” the theme song from the 2009 movie Crazy Heart, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in addition to Golden Globe and Grammy Awards.
The Music Farm was packed with a good crowd on this night. Genuine fans who were there for the whole show rather than just the radio hits whistled and sang along to every tune.
“Charleston is such a cool fuckin’ city, man,” Bingham said as the evening was drawing to a close. “It’s a really great place to be. So thanks, man.” —Prisha Verrier
Prisha Verrier is a Charleston-based freelance writer, journalist, and music lover. She runs the music blog Rock n Roll Feedback.
Solas, the Hungry Monks
Charleston Music Hall, May 10
Local combo the Hungry Monks were already into their opening set, warmed up and playing well, by the time I stepped into the Charleston Music Hall. Their folky, traditional acoustic pop had a nice swing to it as I found my seat to the tune “White Cadillac.” The smooth shuffle of the Monks provided a pleasnat prelude to Philadelphia’s Solas, and I could tell the crowd was into it.
The Hungry Monks’s set wasn’t overtly traditional, but it was clearly influenced by various types traditional acoustic music. I particularly enjoyed the rockabilly-ish swing song “King Sized Poppa.” Very cool. The next song had the line, “It ain’t gonna rain no more,” which reminded me of a song my Grandma used to sing to me as a child. Their closing number was the only cover of their set: “Me and My Uncle.”
After a half-hour intermission, Solos got cranked up just after 8:30 p.m. They introduced the first set of the show, explaining that the music came from Butte, Montana and Shamrock City — both good luck and bad luck as the Irish are involved. Winifred Horan’s fiddle started it out.
I’ve seen Solas only once before (just a few years ago at MerleFest in North Carolina), and as far as modern Celtic bands go, these guys are as good as they come. On this occasion, they treated the audience to both a concert and a production as a movie screen behind the band would provide images and supporting audio throughout the concert to add extra depth to the story told in the songs of Shamrock City, their new concept album about the mining city of Butte in the early 1900s.
Mining: it’s a theme of traveling somewhere to find a better life, or some kind of life. Singer/string player Seamus Egan led the next song, “Several Years A Miner,” on banjo with the nice line, “Today’s not going to be the day we die.”
Eight years ago, Solas played a festival in Butte and got the inspiration to do this project. Copper Ore Boomtown with lots of Irish making their way to Montana which was unlike other parts of Amertica at the time. Butte was very Irish-friendly. In the summer of 1916, Egan’s great uncle died in Butte at the age of 25.
Three instrumentals bring up the crowd and get them rollin’ mid-way through the set. Horan dedicated the next song to John Holenko from the Hungry Monks — a short waltz Horan called “Welcome The Unknown,” adding, “Seamus’ great great uncle, Michael Conway, sure is what Shamrock City is about, but it’s also about immigration in general.” A quick fiddle intro sparked it off.
The first taste of percussion of the night came with tambourine and nice foot/bass pedal work from Egan on “High, Wide & Handsome.” On the intro to “Labour Song,” they sang, “Our lives are worth far more than four lousy bucks a day.”
Art direction note: the Montana State Flag flew on back screen during “And Am I Born to Die,” a tune I recognized from The Songs From The Sacred Harp. A few songs touched on the wild and woolly bar scene in Butte back in the day (the bar never closed and the bar doors had no locks).
Solas left Shamrock City with “Lay Your Money Down,” which had a nice canned crackly intro. The band shifted gear into some of their early material. Egan treated the crowd with a flute-driven tune kicking off their final set.
The next song, a flute-driven tune called “The Crows of Climer,” kicked off a final set that wasn’t part of Shamrock City. Overall, a very sturdy show.
I know that many bands of this level no longer feel the need to constantly cut loose with wild virtuosic solos all the time; sometimes it’s about what’s in-between the notes. But I do like it when they kick things up a notch or two. The Irish musicians of Solas are very, very, good at doing just that. Personally, I just like hearing Egan play the flute. The guy is just plain good.
Thanks to Charleston Music Hall for bringing Solas to town. Here’s hoping they come back. —Derek Judson
Derek Judson is a Charleston-based music fan and a senior account executive at Charleston Magazine.
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