Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
he evening could have been a night off for Charles Wesley Godwin, who's been in the habit of opening shows for his buddy, Zach Bryan, including two more sold-out shows at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens this weekend.
Fat chance, and a good move at that for Godwin, who amply showcased himself to be a member in good standing of the Bryan School of Music, but not beholden to it.
Godwin simply put on a top flight show mixing country and somewhat folky elements during a meaty, engaging night. With a good sound mix behind him (the sound person was given little direction, he said after the show), Godwin's commanding, full-bodied voice easily carried the night. It also helped that he often engaged with the faithful, weaving in stories about songs and clearly enjoying the night.
In songs like "Lying Low," where Godwin professes to desire the low key life instead of the mining life of his father, Godwin combined the ability to write a well-conceived song and vocal aptitude with a crack backing band.
Lead guitarist Al Torrence, who also produces Godwin (he has a new album coming out later this year on Big Loud, the Nashville label home to the likes of Morgan Wallen), HARDY and Ernest) was standout throughout the 100-minute show. And being that this was a country show, kudos to pedal steel player Read Connolly, who doubled on banjo, two instruments rarely played on country songs these days.
Paying respects to the past may be part of Godwin's DNA. He referenced his West Virginia upbringing on a number of songs, including the heartfelt "Seneca Creek," part of a one-two acoustic punch mid-way through. The song is about his grandparents making it through tough times and floods. Story songs used to be part of the country canon. Godwin apparently learned his musical lessons well.
As for the Bryan reference, Godwin offered his very capable take on the very sad "Jamie," which Bryan recorded. One can easily see why Godwin fits in well with Bryan.
Godwin furthered his musical bona fides with well-done and well-placed encores of the traditional Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms," made famous by Flatt & Scruggs more than 70 years ago, and in a tribute to his West Virginia roots, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" the rousing closer on which the crowd lustily sang along.
If this was Godwin's idea of a night off, it's no wonder he's not content to simply opening for Bryan. He does just fine on his own.
Opener JR Carroll has an even more direct line to Bryan – he plays keyboards in Bryan's band. On this night, he was solo acoustic, opening for Godwin. He proved a most worthy with a voice filled with timbre and like the headliner, a lot of high quality songs. Perhaps none more so than "Preacher Man," a brutally honest song about his relationship with his father. It was punctuated by his introduction to the song where he said his father had purposefully never seen him perform and liked every song he has done except this one. Heartfelt to say the least.
"I'm gonna you make you proud," Carroll sang at song's close. If the preacher was there, he would have been converted.