or about the past six months, veteran bluegrassers Clay Hess, formerly of Kentucky Thunder, and Tim Shelton of NewFound Road, along with Clay's son Brennan, have collectively been The Surly Gentlemen. The trio's sound is probably best described as stripped down bluegrass meets singer/songwriter. These Surly Gents have been playing small engagements to better find their sound and feel while testing new songs for an upcoming album.
On this night at a small craft brewery, The Surly Gentlemen returned for their third performance in as many months. Once upon a time, the brewery was a sawmill, and many reminders still flood the scene. Gigantic fireplaces, rough-cut timber, dim lighting and the subtle scent of sawdust create a very intimate atmosphere. Upon the stage, The Gents gathered 'round two condenser mics and the music began.
For the next 90 minutes, The Gents played a variety of sounds. The ever-changing genres varied from pure bluegrass to country and even gospel. New music, yet to be recorded on the upcoming project was mixed in throughout the evening providing a perfect blend of familiar and original music. For the most part, Brennan held down the rhythm on a doghouse bass as tall as he was and sang harmony while Shelton strummed guitar and belted out lyrics to Clay's outstanding guitar or mandolin work.
However, the structure was fluid and ever changing. Jackson Browne's "These Days" found Shelton singing and strumming while Clay put on a guitar clinic, only to be followed by a raucous rendition of Bill Monroe's "Toy Heart" with Shelton only singing harmony and Clay giving it all he had on mandolin. The fluidity of musicianship among the trio created a stellar acoustic dynamic.
In such an intimate setting, the band interacted plenty with the audience. Whether cracking jokes, picking on one another or just laughing, it was evident that The Gents had a good time. Clay had a quick one-liner for everything while Shelton handled most of the introductions. Brennan, a quiet young man, said little if anything when he wasn't singing and would simply smile, nod and play along with the jokes from his old man.
With one last song, The Allman Brother's "Midnight Rider," the Surly Gentlemen pushed their variety even further before thanking everyone for attending and heading to greet the fans. Those looking for some hot bluegrass picking, a touching gospel tune or a sad ol' country song surely got what they were looking for that night from The Surly Gentlemen.