I had a busy night on Thursday.
My biggest regret: Not getting to the World Cafe Live in time to see Mavis Staples perform at the Non-Comm confab. Still, I heard the 73 year old force of nature getting down and dirty with Curtis Mayfield's "Let's Do It Again" on the radio driving in, and ... Lord have mercy. She's got a new album coming on June 25 on Anti-, produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, who also handled 2010's You Are Not Alone. sorry, no picture.
After, that, it was Wild Belle, the Chicago brother sister duo of Natalie and Elliot Bergman, whose Columbia debut, Isles, came out in March. The siblings are quite comfortable working reggae rhythms into their breezy pop songs, and she's a confident singer. Not awesome, but perfectly legit.
Tom Jones was on next, downstairs in the big room. Read more about that here. Then back upstairs for The Last Bison, the indie folk band from Chesapeake, Virginia who do a great deal of strumming and thrashing around on their acoustic instruments, Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons-style, but have a great deal of songwriting work to do. Not impressed.
Much more pleasurable was Jose James, the jazz-soul singer who came next downstairs, who fronted a bands that features terrific Fender Rhoxdes and trumpet player. James is a fluid Panamanian-American vocalist from Minnesota and now, naturally, Brooklyn, whose scats turn into raps at the drop of a hat. Solid, though, it was his well-constructed medley of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Grandma's Hands," that was the highlight of his set, rather than any of his own tunes.
JEFF the Brotherhood.
From there, I made a calculated gambit: Blow off New England folkies David Wax Museum and lap slide genius Robert Randolph in order to try to catch JEFF the Brotherhood, the Nashville sibling duo of Jake and Jamin Orrall, across town at Kung Fu Necktie, while attempting to get back to the WCL in time for the late night lounge session that was to kick off with stellar Alabama songwriter Jason Isbell. I didn't really care about missing indie buzz band Foxygen, because I saw them at SXSW in March and they were terrible.
To give credit where it's due, the whole idea was my friend Alan's, and he drove. Worked out perfectly. JEFF the Botherhood played a crushing high-volume set for the punters packed into the back room at KFN, and I got to hear the bros bang out the 2012 summer anthem "Six Pack" live for the first time. The band plays the KFN again tonight. Info here.
And not only did we get a parking space right in front of the WCL upon returning, we also made it back in time for what turned out to be a very much improved Foxygen set, with singer Jonathan Rado's fey, theatrical mugging meshing perfectly with the band's restless Stonesy psych rock this time around. Good show.
Next up upstairs: Jason Isbell. The formidable former Drive By Trucker who's fine fourth full-band solo album Southeastern, is due in June. His 20 minutes of new songs were all strong, but "Cover Me Up," the penultimate tune before closing with "Alabama Pines," was the killer.
Mark Spencer and Jay Farrar
Last but not least was Son Volt singer Jay Farrar, who was singing songs from the new countrified Son Volt album Honky Tonk with assistance from former Blood Oranges guitarist Mark Spencer, plus dabbling in New Multitudes, the 2012 album which put Woody Guthrie lyrics to music he contributed to. And yes, he applied his sorrowful, careworn voice to "Windfall," the song from 1995's Trace that every hardcore Son Volt fan in the room was singing along to with their eyes closed at 1:30 in the morning.
Sorry, Josh Rouse: There's one more night of Non-Comm, and it's time for bed.