Hurray for the Riff Raff: singing against the grain

“Like an old sad song/ you heard it all before,” sings 28-year-old Bronx native Alynda Lee Segarra. That’s certainly true about Hurray for the Riff Raff‘s single “The Body Electric.”

The song’s beautifully simple repeating melody reinforces it’s haunting lyrics — allusions to the murder of 14-year-old African American Delia Green.

We’ve heard this sad song sung as ballads from Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan; however, Hurray for the Riff Raff retelling (like Maurice Ogden’s famous poem “The Hangman”) questions the injustice and encourages political discourse.

Perhaps that’s what NPR‘s Ann Powers gravitated toward when she declared Hurray for the Riff Raff’s “The Body Electric” as the “political folk song of the year.” 

The song certainly has a hook. “Said you’re gonna shoot me down/ put my body in the river,” Segarra sings over the strumming of a guitar. The mysterious pronouns immediately places us into the murder-mystery (which might also explain the success of “This American Life’s” immensely popular podcast, “Serial”).

Or perhaps protests just fire us up. The Mike Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions brought millions to the streets all across America. Meanwhile, “The Hanging Tree,” the political rebellion song penned by Suzanne Collins, scored by The Lumineers’ Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz, and sung by Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” movie, was played more than 2 million times and downloaded more than 200,000 times within the first full week of its release. 

Segarra and her New Orleans-based band does what the narrator of “The Hangman” failed to do. Her voice cries out against the atrocities — from the murder of Delia Green to the death of Trayvon Martin. The only questions is: will you do the same?

You can donate to Hurray for the Riff Raff’s The Body Electric Fund here:

Money collected will be donated to The Trayvon Martin Foundation, the Third Wave Fund and other charities. 


Country a cappella heartthrobs ‘Home Free’ perform at UB

They’re a little bit silly, a little bit sappy and very, very skilled. Not a bad combination, especially when these attributes landed them a Columbia Record deal.

Of course, I’m talking about Home Free, the Minnesota-based country a cappella group that won the fourth season of NBC’s “The Sing-Off.” Last night, Home Free performed a potpourri of a cappella country and pop covers at the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts stage — their third last stop on their “Crazy Life” CD tour.

While this is their first national tour since “The Sing-Off,” these boys are polished and professional performers. And they should be. They have years of technical musical training and on-the-road practice above their cowboy boots.

Brothers Chris (baritone) and Adam Rupp (percussion) started the group during their years at Gustavus Adolphus College 14 years ago. With the addition of tenor Rob Lundquist, bassist Tim Foust and high tenor Austin Brown, they’ve sang at hundreds of concerts — through fairs, colleges and cruise ships.

They know their audience too.

Although last night’s show was their second time at Center for the Arts (they were here last year on “The Sing-Off” tour), most of the audience was seeing them live for the first time.

“How many people are here because your wives dragged you here?” they asked, followed by a showing of hands.

This opprotunity allowed them to showcase their strengths while addressing the skeptics. Adam Rupp, the group’s resident beat-box, performed a one-man drum solo, mixing and re-mixing sounds and genres with his lips.

It rivals the technical genius of Bo Burnham’s “We Think We Know You.”

Foust showed off his impressive almost five-octave range with a cover of Josh Turner’s “Your Man.” During a particularly high note, Lundquist and Brown berate Foust for overstepping and dipping into their range as tenors.

What makes Home Free hit home is beyond their vocal range though. It’s their performance, self-aware talent, and maybe a little bit of their looks too. Brown and Foust shamelessly give the crowd smoldering stares before the intermission break, hoping to sell some CDs. (Their Holiday CD, “Full of Cheer,” was released on iTunes Sept. 30; “Crazy Life” was released Jan. 13.)

Foust demonstrates his skills as a lyricist. The group performed a few original songs, penned by Foust, including the sweet and sentimental country crooner “I’ve Seen”; and the comedic hit “Champagne Taste (On A Beer Budget).” Foust’s low voice and the high backup vocals makes the latter song seem like a slower musical parody of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (minus the violin, of course).

Like fellow country star Taylor Swift, they can effortlessly cover everything from country to pop, adding their unique country twang. This includes One Direction’s “The Story of My Life,” Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and Bobby Day’s 1957 single “Rockin’ Robin.”

Their specialty, of course, is their country harmonies, and they showcase them with Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids,” Scotty McCreery’s “Feelin’ It,” Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” Rascal Flatts’ “Life Is A Highway,” Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” the Zac Brown Band’s “Warmer Weather,” and ending with the most ‘country’ classic of all, “God Bless America.”

Now that’s something America can love.

Fun & clouds in Skylar Grey’s ‘Don’t Look Down’

Chances are that you’ve heard her before. She sang the opening refrain in Fort Minor’s “Where’d you Go” (2006), in Diddy’s “Coming Home” (2010) and in Eminem and Dr. Dre’s “I Need a Doctor” (2011). 

And she wrote the hook in Eminem and Rhianna’s “Love the Way You Lie” (2010) while she was living alone in an Oregon cabin.

“This is where all the inspiration came from,” Skylar Grey said. “Just being here by myself and thinking a lot and reflecting a lot.”

Grey has written harmonies since she was 2 years old — which landed her a handful of Grammy nominations including those for her work on “I Need a Doctor,” “Love the Way you Lie” and Kaskade’s album “Fire & Ice” — so it seems like it’s about time that she has a major label studio album; “Don’t Look Down” — which was released today, July 9, under KidinaKorner and Interscope Records after three years of production — is her debut album as Skylar Grey. (Her first album, “Like Blood Like Honey,” was released in 2006 under Holly Brook, her given first and middle name.)

And her new album even features some of the artists that lauded her work and launched it into national prominence. Eminem raps in Grey’s single, “C’mon Let Me Ride,” a catchy pop song loaded with sexual innuendos.

Meanwhile, Big Sean’s rapping and Travis Barker’s drumming accompany her vocals in the album’s first track, “Back from the Dead,” an electro-pop song reminiscent of Kaskade’s “Room for Happiness.” The whirling noises and drumming beat make her sound tinny and robotic, even as she sings about her emotions: “I’m so confused I don’t know what to feel.”

Perhaps those lines explain her eclectic range. Whereas “C’mon Let Me Ride” is about as catchy and subtle as Brittney Spears’ “If You Seek Amy” and “Back from the Dead” sounds so mechanic and recycled, it’s easily forgettable, darker tracks like “Final Warning” are vindictive and deliciously thrilling.

“Someone’s going to get hurt,” she sing-songs sweetly. “And it’s not going to be me.”

She has a knack for writing about abusive relationships — even though she claims the only one she’s been in is with the music industry. “Good afternoon, dear/ How does the rope feel around your neck?” she sings in “Final Warning.” No doubt this is the reprise to “Love the Way You Lie.”

The tracks change from the potential Top 40 hit to the lyrical and melancholy. Quieter tracks like “Love the Way You Lie Part III” and “White Suburban” — whose only embellishments are her voice and the piano — are beautiful, showcasing her impressive vocal range and storytelling capabilities. She sounds reflective, and a bit like Regina Spektor at times.

Which couldn’t be more different than the hip-hop beats in “Shit, Man!” or the pop-rock feel in tracks like “Wear Me Out,” “Clear Blue Sky” and “Religion.” (The guitar chords in “Religion” sound familiar — a bit like those in the beginning of Clay Aiken’s “Invisible”?)

But if she hadn’t already gotten accolades for her singing/song-writing abilities, or received recognition from artists like Eminem (who signed on as the album’s executive producer), it would be hard to market Grey; she masters a potpourri of genres and her album’s tracks seem as capricious and unpredictable as the weather. But whereas her first album has a more folksy piano/guitar singer/songwriter feel, “Don’t Look Down” is clearly directed at pop audiences with wide-ranging musical tastes.

‘Bastille’: sieging the charts by storm

“Oh I feel overjoyed,” Bastille’s 25-year-old frontman Dan Smith sings in the UK band’s first debut album, “Bad Blood.” Although Smith sounds a bit more melancholy than overjoyed while singing his tracks, he should be feeling overjoyed right now.

Not only has Bastille’s “Bad Blood” tour sold out within minutes of its UK release, but their single “Pompeii” has been no. 1 on the UK Official Streaming Charts for at least seven consecutive weeks.  According to the UK iTunes charts, their album, “Bad Blood,” (which was released only in the UK on March 4 by Virgin Records) is selling at no. 7. “Oh I feel overjoyed/when you listen to my words,” Smith sings in Bastille’s single “Overjoyed.” Well, Mr. Smith, your wish is fulfilled. More than 22 million people have watched the music video for “Pompeii” on YouTube, listening to your words.

Smith, who’s been writing songs since he was 15,  says his songs aren’t overly autobiographical. Instead, the singer/songwriter follows in the tradition of Regina Spektor and Josh Ritter, American alternative indie folk singers known for their narrative styles, drawing from fiction or history for inspiration. Smith — who named the band after Bastille Day, the English term for the French holiday celebrating the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution on July 14, 1789 — plays his part as a historian or singing bard.

His song “Daniel in the Den” chronicles the biblical story from the point-of-view of Daniel, who was trapped in the lion’s den. “Icarus” is based on the Greek myth where Icarus, the son of Daedalus, flew too close to the sun, melting his wax wings and falling to his death. “Pompeii” is about the fall of the Roman city from the point-of-view of its citizens. “How am I gonna be an optimist about this?” Smith repeats.

Whereas other English singer/songwriters wrote autobiographical and emotional, passionate songs about heartbreak, Smith’s songs are cold and passive, sounding a little detached, but no less addictive. Adele had “Set Fire to the Rain.” Bastille has “Things We Lost In the Fire.”

Like Adele, Smith has a high vocal range and a knack for songwriting, but the man behind the words is a mystery. In fact, Smith kept his music a secret until his songs were discovered:  “None of my friends ever knew. My family knew because they overheard it coming out of my room – these weird warbling noises,” he told The Independent. The elusive Smith literally masks his face and his wild, spiky black hair — first with a shapeless brown sack and then with a grotesque mask — in Bastille’s music video “Laura Palmer,” inspired by David Lynch’s television series “Twin Peaks,” one of his favorite telly shows.

Smith’s lyrics are beautiful and haunting. “There’s a hole in my soul/ I can’t fill it/ I can’t fill it,” Smith sings in “Flaws.” In the Abbey Road recording of the song, violins cry in the background, harmonizing with Smith’s choruses.

“The Weight of Living, Pt. 1” sounds like something out of the “Where the Wild Things Are” soundtrack. “Your Albatross/ shoot it down/ shoot it down/ When you just can’t shake/ The heavy weight of living,” Smith sings. You can almost hear Maurice Sendak’s words wash over you: “There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”

Smith’s company consists of Chris “Woody” Wood on drums, Will Farquarson on bass-guitar and Kyle Simmons on keyboard. But they aren’t like the British boy bands of One Direction or The Wanted. Wood, Farquarson and Simmons are content echoing the “ey-ey-ey-oh, ey-ohs” in the background of “Pompeii” or harmonizing to the “ay-ay-ay, ay-ay-ay, ay, ay, ays” in “Get Home,” rather than take turns with solos.

The lead singer, on the other hand, has reservations about being in the spotlight. “Kyle [Simmons] who plays keys in the band always takes the piss out of the fact that most of the stuff I have to do is my idea of hell, like putting myself out there and being in photos,” Smith says.

Well, Mr. Smith, it looks like you better get used to hell because your Bastille has stormed the British charts and started a revolution across the Atlantic. And as you know from your world history, revolution’s contagious.

Bastille’s debut album “Bad Blood,” which contains 13 tracks including their singles “Overjoyed,” “Flaws,” “Bad Blood,” “Pompeii” and “Laura Palmer,” is currently only available in the UK. Their 4-song EP, “The Haunt,” was released in the United States on May 28.  

‘The Heist’: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis rob your time for 10 thousand results

Ben Haggerty knows a thing or two about hard work. Taking a note from Malcolm Gladwell, who preached “the key to success is practicing a task for 10 thousand hours,” Haggerty pours himself into The Heist, his debut studio album.

Haggerty, better known by his stage name, Macklemore, raps about what it took to compile The Heist, which he and producer Ryan Lewis recorded between 2009 and 2012. “I put my skin and all my bones in everything I record right,” Macklemore raps in the album’s second track, “Can’t Hold Us.”

It shows.

The independently produced, 15-song album is moving and autobiographical, ranging from Macklemore’s obsession with clothing to his former drug addiction (he went to rehab in 2008). In his song “Wing$,” Macklemore raps about his battle with consumerism. His opponent: his first pair of Nike Air Macs. Macklemore says the shoes empowered his 7-year-old self to feel “like Mike”; however, the same brand that elevated him isolated him from his less financially stable peers. The song’s refrain — a chorus of children singing about broken dreams — is as haunting as his memories.

In “Starting Over,” Macklemore raps about his relapse from his three-year drug-free stint: “And you know, what pain looks like/ When you tell your dad you relapsed and look at him directly into his face,” he recounts. The steady rhythm and repeating chords illustrate the cyclical nature of his journey to recovery.

Macklemore, a white rapper from Seattle, also tackles other social issues in the hip-hop culture, ranging from homosexuality to racial equality. In “Same Love,” Macklemore acknowledges the stigma the word “gay” has in hip-hop: “If I was gay/ I would think hip-hop hates me.”

And in “A Wake,” he could be describing himself: “It’s always so refreshing to hear somebody on records/ no guns, no drugs, no sex, just truth.” It’s refreshing that Macklemore avoids degrading women in his rhymes and that his lyrics are about equality rather than misogyny.

Macklemore’s clearly enunciated words are poetic if not spiritual. “Neon Cathedral” compares the bar to a chapel; the ritualistic sharing of the wine becomes the routine trip to the bar, drinking “one or two more.” The transformation from a simple bar crawl to a prayer is as transcendent as the Pascal mystery.

Meanwhile, Lewis’ instrumental mix adds another layer to Macklemore’s words and rhythm. “Thin Love” sounds like multiple dial tones giving off different frequencies. “Make the Money” opens with what sounds like an echoing siren, before a repeating piano ostinato keeps tempo. The guitar in “Cowboy Boots” gives the track a Celtic feel while Macklemore sings about drinking at the bar — which is fitting to his Irish heritage.

Providing social and political awareness, The Heist is empowering. It shows a reformer who overcomes past regrets and the “10 thousand hours” it takes to achieve them.

‘Enter the Haggis’ tells a story

Enter the Haggis playing on July 7 at the HIstoric Riviera Theatre & Performing Arts Center. Photo taken by Qina Liu

The Celtic have a tradition as storytellers — and Canadian Celtic-Rock band Enter the Haggis emulate this skill as they take the stage last Friday night at the Historic Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda, N.Y.

“This song has always been kind of an obituary,” singer Brian Buchanan says as he introduces, “The Flood,” one of the band’s newest songs from their C.D. “Whitelake.”

“This song is not about drowning,” Buchanan says ironically; he almost drowned when canoeing after recording this song. “The cheerful note of the story is that I don’t die,” he says.

To this, an audience member cheers.

“The Flood” starts off slow, it’s haunting and somber melody flooding the theatre as Buchanan sings about trying not to drown amid the flood of “commitments and careers.”

“It’s easy to not be afraid and simply close our eyes as we watch the water rise,” he sings.

In a way, these lyrics reflect the story of the band, who decided to do the not easy thing of leaving their record label to record “Whitelake” independently. The stories, like “The Flood,” are more personal, and the overall C.D. sounds more rock, blues and country than the Celtic flavor that riveted fans.

Despite going in a new direction that might disappoint some, Enter the Haggis continues to tell the stories that supported them. These stories included “Noteworthy and Piercy,” which Buchanan describes as the true story of two fisherman from Newfoundland; “The Death of Johnny Mooring”; “One Last Drink”; “Lanigan’s Ball”; “Down with the Ship”; and…

“Gasoline,” someone shouts from the orchestra.

“Where?” Buchanan asks, looking around comically.

Dutifully, Enter the Haggis plays “Gasoline” during their second set, followed by newer songs such as “Whistleblower,” which is about an ex-child soldier returning home; and “Devil’s Son,” which Buchanan describes as the “happy song about Mark Madoff’s suicide.”

The eclectic blend of both older and newer songs and styles only added to the energy of the theatre as Craig Downie virtuosoly juggled among trumpet to bagpipes to harmonica to vocals and Brian traded time among fiddle, keyboard, guitar and microphone. As depressing as the lyrics to Stan Rogers’ “White Squall” might be, the lighthearted banter between the band and the audience raised spirits.

“There’s a bar, you know,” Downie says as he raises a pint of Guinness to his lips.

Later Downie becomes fascinated by a chandelier hanging from the ceiling of the Riviera Theatre, and begins singing from “Phantom of the Opera.”

“You know, when he sings, that chandelier falls, right?” Buchanan quips.

This playful, tongue-in-cheek banter continues as Craig narrates Phantom, calling, “Christine, Christine.”

“The crowd’s yelling for Lady Gaga,” says Buchanan. “Or Andrew Lloyd Beiber.”

Enter the Haggis plays “Cameos” at the Riviera Theatre. Photo taken by Qina Liu.

In reality though, the crowd was yelling for Enter the Haggis, standing and cheering until the band returned. Unplugged from their amps, the five members of the band lined up at the front of the stage and began singing, “Cameos.”

“The story’s told, the credits roll, the lights are up, it’s time to go,” chimed the voices of Buchanan, Downie, Trever Lewington, Mark Abraham and Bruce McCarthy.

“This is a beautiful, beautiful theatre and we’d love to come back someday,” Buchanan says.

With the success of “Whitelake,” Enter the Haggis will be recording another indie album in October.

A ‘Gleeful’ Christmas

We have seen them belt out chorus after chorus in honor of artists from Lady Gaga to Brittany Spears to CeLo Green to Journey to Kanye West. We have seen them do musical numbers, such as Wicked’s “Defying Gravity,” and “Singing in the Rain,” complete with water and umbrellas, as well as mash-ups, such as “Halo/Walking on Sunshine.” We have seen them week after week on Fox’s hit show, Glee. Yet this season, Gleeks can celebrate the festivities a little bit early with the release of “Glee: The Christmas Album” on Nov. 16.

Like when the McKinley High glee club, New Directions, covered the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” releasing a Halloween CD before the episode aired, the Christmas CD follows in the same tradition, exciting fans for the future broadcast.

Once again, the cast of Glee proves their versatility as singers, sounding ‘gleeful’ to pop-y to soulful to angelic with a dozen of holiday hits. Beginning with a happy little ditty called “We Need a Little Christmas,” which features solos from Mercedes (Amber Riley), Rachel (Lea Michelle), and Kurt (Chris Colfer), the cheerful song sounds like it could have come from My Fair Lady or a similar Broadway musical. Colfer’s vocal abilities are astounding as he sings and harmonizes with the females in the glee club.

“Deck the Rooftop” — a Glee-style mash-up of “Deck the Halls” and “Up in the Rooftop” — follows, remixed with a little pizzazz. A strong steady percussion beat accompanies the glee club’s vocals, giving the song more hop than hip. Lea Michelle shines in “Merry Christmas Darling” and “O Holy Night” — slow, beautiful, and tender songs featuring her angelic voice and sounding like a chorus of angels.

However, the true gem hidden in this stocking-stuffer of holiday must-haves is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” a fun and flirty duet between the budding gay couple Kurt (Chris Colfer) and the heartthrob from the rival boy’s academy Blaine (Darren Criss). The song is classy, exuding enough sexiness to rival Madonna’s Christmas classic “Santa Baby.” Again, Colfer is stunning, nailing the female vocals. Criss’s voice is smooth and suave. Combined, their voices soothe one like a warm mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter day, making one feel warm when “It’s Cold Outside.”

Yet, if there were a song that would ring true to who the McKinley High glee club are, it would be “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year.” The song echoes the glee club’s plight as outcasts of McKinley High, often getting bullied or slushied in the face for not being popular. First featured in 1964 animated movie Rudolph: the Red-Nosed Reindeer, “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year” deals with a similar band of outcasts: misfit toys. The highlight of the glee club’s rendition is the outlandish quirky comments from cheerleader Brittany (Heather Morris), Artie (Kevin McHale), and Kurt (Chris Colfer). “How would you like to be a spotted elephant,” Morris says during the song in a manner much like how her character would often blurt out outrageous, yet hilarious lines.

However, if there were a pop single that could rival Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey’s fun and perfect Christmas duo, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Last Christmas” would put up a fair fight. The song features solos between the lead male and female couple, Rachel (Lea Michelle) and Finn (Corey Monteinth). Their voices compliment each other in this pop-style duet on love.

Meanwhile, “Jingle Bells” becomes a Marco Polo game, featuring the boys, Finn (Cory Monteith), Puck (Mark Salling), and Artie (Kevin McHale). With the musical accompaniment, one can envision the trio serenading at a jazz club, wearing suits and top hats. “Jingle Bells” is a refreshing burst of energy among some of the more somber songs celebrating Christmas.

The CD ends on a soulful and spiritual note with “Angels We Have Heard On High” and “O Holy Night,” getting at the true meaning of Christmas. Sung by Mercedes (Amber Riley), “Angels We Have Heard On High” sounds like a chorus of Halleluiahs on Easter Sunday, or perhaps a scene from Sister Act. Riley’s voice would fill any church, with her praise reaching the heavens above. Meanwhile, “O Holy Night” is what one expects to hear at midnight mass, just hours before St. Nick comes knocking down your chimney. Listening to Michelle’s voice, one expects to be able to close one’s eyes and see the star of Bethlehem and remember baby Jesus’s humble beginnings.

The Glee Christmas episode airs at 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 on Fox, featuring some of the songs from “Glee: The Christmas Album.”

Ritter ‘rocks’ The Haunt

Josh Ritter delivers an enthused set at 9 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 24 at The Haunt in Ithaca, N.Y. Photograph taken by Qina Liu.

Josh Ritter is an angel — sent from Heaven to entertain on Earth. And in his newest song “Sir Gallahad,” Ritter compares himself to a celestial being, poking fun at the habits of one of the most morally solid knights of the round table.

However, even angels have mortal flaws. Ritter’s “curse” is that no matter how well or how long he performs, the crowd will always wants more. While Ritter revisited favorites such as “Harrisburg,” he also alluded to The Talking Head’s “Once In A Lifetime.” After an exhausting hour-and-40-minute set on Oct. 24 at The Haunt in Ithaca, N.Y., Josh Ritter emerges half-drenched in sweat as the cheers of the crowd escalate.

With his charismatic grin and his high energy, the incandescent creature can certainly charm a crowd “with the light of my lantern.” He had the crowd waving glowsticks, singing choruses, dancing, clapping and cheering for an encore.

The Levon Helm Band captivates audience at The State Theatre

It is not often that one encounters a legend face to face, but when audience members filed in to see Levon Helm perform at 8 p.m. on March 5 in the State Theatre, they were sure to have that experience.

Recovering from his 1998 diagnosis of throat cancer, Levon Helm, who has spent his whole life dedicated to music, was told he would never sing again. But the 69-year-old musician is a true performer. Helm made a consecutive two-time Grammy-winning comeback with his 2007 release of “Dirt Farmer” for best traditional folk album and his 2009 release of “Electric Dirt” for best Americana album. Having worked with musicians like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash and influenced others, such as Elton John and Marc Cohn, Levon Helm remains an inspiration.

The Wood Brothers, a two-man band consisting of brothers Chris Wood on bass and Oliver Wood on guitar, provided the opening entertainment for the famed performer. While the duo could not quite match Helm’s skill as a multitalented musician, The Wood Brothers gave a solid performance in their folksy-blues style.

Chris Wood’s fingers created masterful moans with the cello, while his older brother Oliver Wood provided the lyrical and guitar accompaniment to songs such as “Tried and Tempted,” “Lovin’ Arms,” “Chocolate On My Tongue” and “Up Above My Head.”  Often, Chris Wood would play the harmonica or harmonize with his brother’s voice while simultaneously providing the walking bass lines to the songs. The Wood Brother’s hour-long set served as a brilliant opening act for The Levon Helm Band. They relaxed the audience with their mellow soft sounds.

The other members of The Levon Helm Band carried the vocals of most of the songs, but Helm had a maintained a quiet but powerful presence on stage. The original member of the rock group, the rest of the band was always moving with his rhythm as he kept the beat with his skillful drumming.

Brian Mitchell, a singer and musician for the band, whose voice was raspier than Levon’s, pleased the crowd with his frequent chromatic scales on the piano and head banging. While Mitchell switched between playing the piano and accordion between songs, other members of the band carried musical solos: Steven Bernstein on the trumpet, Clark Gayton on the trombone and Jay Collins and Erik Lawrence on the saxophone. They alternated between the brass solos in “Fannie Mae” and gave the song a lively, jazzier feel.

To the delight of audience members dancing in the aisles, The Levon Helm Band also performed some older, popular hits. “Long Black Veil,” originally featured on the band’s 1968 album “Music From Big Pink.” It was a crowd pleaser as Teresa Williams’ and Amy Helm’s powerful country voices belted out the lyrics. The band’s “Remedy” also began with screams of approval from the crowd, as it featured Jimmy Weider on acoustic guitar, with Larry Campbell performing a sick electric guitar riff. The angelic harmonies of Larry Campbell, Amy Helm and Teresa Williams were simply breathtaking when singing their rendition of The Grateful Dead’s “Attics Of My Life.”

Photo taken by Claudia Pietrazak for The Ithacan.

The highlight of the set was when Levon Helm traded his drumsticks for his mandolin and began singing “Deep Elem Blues.” It was endearing to watch Levon Helm and his daughter Amy Helm sway to the music, each leaning into a shared microphone. It was one of the most infectiously spirited tunes.

At the end, The Wood Brother’s were invited back onstage to sing the band’s 1968 hit “The Weight.” Like the performance began, the show ended with a full standing ovation from audience members, who filled the theatre with deafening applause.

Click here to see the article in The Ithacan. For more information on The Levon Helm Band and their Midnight Ramblings, click here.