Does it take a lot of guts to get on stage and present a set of material so new that some of the songs have no name? Or does it merely take confidence in one’s ability and trust in one’s fans? I believe it took all of that in order for Mark Erelli to perform entirely new material to a full audience on Saturday evening.
I have seen Erelli perform several times, both on his own and with Barnstar!, and I'v always enjoyed him. He's an excellent guitarist and singer and writes wonderful, meaningful songs. I cannot use one word to describe his style, other than possibly roots; there is folk, country, blues, and Americana in there, and probably others I failed to notice.
For this show, Erelli had bass player Zachariah Hickman (who also plays with Barnstar! as well as Josh Ritter’s band) and drummer Marco Giovino perform with him, both terrific musicians who added much to the show. Playing with no rehearsals, that was not apparent because they were cohesive. One thing was obvious – they were enjoying themselves! When Giovino brought out the frottoir (washboard) for one song, the jokes about doing laundry flew across the stage.
Erelli gave the back story of some of the songs. "Dear Sister" came from the story of the orphan trains during the Great Depression. Pieced together from the notes pinned to orphans' clothing, it is a hauntingly beautiful song. He commented that sometimes when he writes a song, he is unsure whether it will be his own or a Barnstar! song -- an interesting dilemma.
Erelli brought Deni Hlavinka, lead singer of the opening act The Western Den, to sing harmony with him during several songs. She added depth to the singing and helped round the sound.
He is going into the studio to record a new album this week, I believe. I look forward to hearing these songs again, although there was something quite special about being one of the first audiences to hear them before they are ‘polished’ on a recording.
I had heard of The Western Den but this was my first time seeing them. Young and eager, the band is composed of Hlavinka on lead vocals and keyboard, Chris West on guitar and vocals, and on this night Ro Rowan on cello.
Their sound is ethereal and lovely; Hlavinka has a voice that will stay with you long after the show ends.