In the country music world there are few higher compliments than calling someone “the real deal.”
Whether referencing a playing stye, songwriting style, or just a general disposition, the phrase states a simple idea – that this music comes from a deep place, that it connects with the audience in a deep way.
On Thursday night at the Fine line, three acts showed why they belong in that elite category, bringing different strands of country music together to create strong connections with their audiences.
The charm of Aaron Vance
Aaron Vance opened the night. Vance brought a set of engaging songs mostly pulled from his latest release, Cabin Fever.
Accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, Vance accomplished the always tough feat of winning over a crowd that hadn’t filled in yet, and for the most part wasn’t familiar with his music.
While the music spoke for itself, Vance lent extra credence to his country bona-fides with his between-song banter, which highlighted his upbringing in Mississippi and his relationships with modern Nashville royalty (Shooter Jennings and Dave Cobb, among others). He displayed an easy charm that made him a good fit on this talented lineup.
‘A voice of gold’
Following Vance was Joshua Ray Walker and his band. One of music’s true gems, Joshua sings his top-shelf country songs with a voice of gold. He was backed by a fantastic band that accentuated the best parts of his multi-dimensional performance.
While they reliably cooked on the up-tempo numbers, it was the slower and mid-tempo numbers that stood out most. On these songs, like the mid-tempo “Lot Lizard,” Joshua’s rangy voice had space to shine, and the along with the songwriting.
The highlight of the show was deeply emotional “Canyon,” which Joshua dedicated to his late father. It was especially moving in such an intimate setting.
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers closed out the night.
Their musical vision is less narrowly “country” than the other two acts, with the band bringing their own musical fusion and vision – one part country, all rock and roll – to the table. It could be called alt-country or Americana.
However one defines it, the music rocked, and rocked hard. Sometimes this took on a country lean (the band does have a steel player), sometimes it took an almost punk form, and sometimes it fell somewhere in between.
Since they’re several records in, the band had plenty of material to draw from, including from their excellent recent record Nightroamer.
Like the other artists on the bill, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers are on the rise, and like the others, they’re the real damn deal.