Sardined inside the sold out 318 Cafe, Vovo Careca brought a diverse set of music to the stage. From their bluesy soul originals, to deep cut covers, Mark Johnson led an evening filled with guest musicians and feel good moments with a talented core of seasoned players. Vovo Careca means “bald grandpa” in Portuguese and as a special treat, Mark’s grandchildren graced the full audience.
The band consists of Tim Zorne on drums, Adam Schmidt on guitar, Bruce Balgaard on bass, and Jason Craft on keyboards. Each member has equal addition to the group as certain songs mindfully showcased the experience and skills. The keys add accents and thickness, while the bass solidifies the urge to thump along. The drums add a steady tasteful sizzle that allows the guitar to ride around the beat. The center spoke of it all being music veteran Mark K Johnson and his distinct voice and charisma.
Kicking off the evening with their originals, “Love Out There” was an immediate shot espresso with keys and guitar. Mark’s voice is blend of T-Bone Burnett’s cadence, Randy Newman’s charm, and Tom Wait’s character. The trifecta is an instant head turn and leaning in, wanting to hear more. “Love Out There” introduced the band and that vibe, with clues of what was to come.
“Drama” added an attitude and groove, with smirking vocals “You know I love you honey, I just can’t stand the drama.” Another quirky original “Testamint”, written by seeing Christian mints decorated with tiny crosses and scripture readings, saw Jason on keyboard strap on an accordion. A New Orleans inspired swing and thump took over the venue.
Coming next to cool down the set was “What It Is”, another original that expands the smooth soul of Mark’s voice. Joining him onstage was Jill Conzemius for added vocals. The soft sheen of her voice was a nice touch to the emotion of Mark’s raw emotion of the song. Ending the first set of the night was Jill performing U2’s “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”. Vovo Careca’s version is slowed down with a softer touch. The gentle approach suits the song and really sweetened the resolve of the first half.
Filling the night were an eclectic set of covers, from The Weeknd‘s “Can’t Feel My Face” to the full time blues of Keb’ Mo’ with “Dirty Low Down And Bad”. Equally impressive and made their own, Vovo Careca’s chameleon nature jumped between decades and genres with ease. Other standouts included Ray Charles “Hard Time (No One Knows Better Than I)”, which Mark slayed on vocals, pushing his voice to the edge of growl and strain.
Ray Charles “Don’t You Know” showcased the talent of Vovo Careca with an impeccable drum and bass solo sprinkled into it. There’s a style of collaboration that happens with great bands, where peacocking is subtle and mindfully done with the rest of the group. This understanding of the greater blend and staying in the pocket actually makes them shine more. It’s maturity in staying with the band, while exuding those skills when the music calls for it.
Covering T-Bone Burnett and Eric Clapton proves that Vovo Careca brings a full bag of goodness to each gig. The covers are thoughtfully picked and stay off the most common path of selection. The songs demonstrate their gifts, while providing the perfect vehicle for Mark’s unmistakable voice.
Keep your eyes open for more opportunities to catch Vovo Careca in the coming months, including their return to the Granada Theater in Uptown this March. Music is available on Spotify, Youtube, or follow them on Facebook.