Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
ake Blount made it clear from the outset to the packed crowd inside the venerable folk club – this would be your typical two-set show.
"We have two varied sets...to do for you tonight - the first is to (play as) an old time string band before we turn to electronic" songs, said the Providence. R.I. 27-year-old singer. Blount, a low-key, but engaging personality, stayed true to his words in a series of songs from the deep past.
And despite the chasm between the two sets, Blount traversed it well, equally comfortable with either overall style explored.
The first set was not strictly string music of the old time variety. He went bluesy with Alberta Hunter's "You Can't Tell the Difference After Dark," a song dealing with interracial relationships. Only this was not only blues-based as a jazzy feel enveloped the song. And, oh yeah, banjo was part of the equation as well.
Blount dug way back in the first set. "Raleigh & Spencer," for example, is at least a century old and of unclear origins. A twin fiddle attack gave an extra kick. "I Am the Devil" was courtesy of The Mississippi Sheiks, a Black country blues group from the 1930s.
This was truly a group effort, and Blount made the most of his superb band mates in both sets with Gus Tritsch on guitar (he also sometimes played something he called a "banjo uke," which looked like a miniature banjo); New Zealand native George Jackson on fiddle (and sometimes banjo) and Nelson Williams on upright bass. Each member deserved the chance to shine on stage with Jackson and Tritsch particular standouts.
And Blount was vocally adept whether on Ralph Stanley in the first set ("One Drop of Water") or the fast-pace, more musically aggressive Bessie Jones/Alan Lomax-penned "Once There Was No Sun" in the second set from Blount's just released "The New Faith," which is described as what Black religious music would sound like in a not-so-distant future world devastated by climate change.
The subject matter may be on the heavy side, but Blount did not make it as dark as it may have sounded.
In fact, this was a bit of a history lesson in the musical forebearers with a cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Didn't It Rain," with Blount crediting her – not Elvis – as the creator of rock and roll. Fiddle started the tune with Tritsch's electric guitar taking over.
If you get the sense that Blount was somewhat of a musical chameleon, you'd be on the mark. And so was Blount. He was a lot of things tonight – old time, blues, folk and rock – and he made the past come alive.