What is SeMi Bluegrass? It's a meeting place where live music fans in Southeast Michigan gather to exchange information about the live music scene: show reviews, cool venues, band profiles, product reviews and more.
Articles, news, reviews and band profiles welcome.
Email to: SeMiBluegrass@gmail.com

If you're looking for the South East Michigan Bluegrass Music Association (A fine group of Bluegrass fans in South East Michigan) you can find them at http://smbluegrass.org/

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Pure Soul: Carolyn Wonderland at The Ark

Heart and Pure Texas Soul: Carolyn Wonderland
The Premier Venue for Roots Music in SE Michigan!
I first encountered the Carolyn Wonderland band at the Marquette Area Blues Festival a couple years ago.  While there is no denying that she is a special talent on her own (more on that below), I was truly impressed by her relationship and interaction with her band.  It is rare to see three musicians come together so entirely, fall into a comfortable grove and play off each other so completely.  When I saw they were playing the Ark in Ann Arbor (one of the truly great, intimate venues around), it became a "must see" event on my summer music calendar.
The Incomparable Carolyn Wonderland
On the Tuesday of the show, I got home from work and was just getting on my lawn tractor to mow the lawn when I remembered "Holy Cow!  I have tickets for the show tonight!" (wow...getting older sure is an adventure).  With that said, I threw on a tee shirt and some shorts and hit the road for Ann Arbor.  After a weird sour beer and awesome bowl of soup at the Jolly Pumpkin, I headed across the street and was able to snag the first place in line for the show.  As usual, met some cool people in line, including a nice couple who I'd seen at a bunch of shows recently and ended up sharing a front-row table with them.

With a decent crowd on hand for a Tuesday night, the show started right on time and--from the very first note--I was transfixed by one of the most engaging, high energy performances I have ever seen.  From the heels of her authentically Texan boot-clad feet to the tips of her immaculately painted bright red nails, Carolyn Wonderland simply oozes the type of grit and soul that bespeaks countless performances in the honky tonks, speakeasies and back rooms of the blues circuit.  It is a rare treat to hear her sing, as she bares heart and soul to the audience; drenching every phrase, lick and note with her full attention.  It is the kind of singing that transforms you; pulling you deep into the song and revealing the nuances of meaning behind the lyrics.  When each song ended, their was inevitably a moment of stunned silence in the crowd as they struggled to come to grips with what they had just witnessed, followed by enthusiastic applause.  The affable and humble Ms. Wonderland seemed genuinely taken back by the response, as if she too were somewhat amazed by the passion with which she sings.  This was definitely one of the finest vocal performances I have ever seen.

Rob Hooper on Drums
Cole El-Saleh on Keys/Bass
And then there is the Carolyn Wonderland band--and what a band it is.  Set up in a small triangle, so that they can see/play/groove off one another, the trio of Carolyn on guitar, Rob Hooper on Drums and Cole El-Saleh on Keys (and a super cool bass emulator keyboard to boot) are simply one of the tightest and most professional bands you will ever see.  A large man playing a diminutive drum kit, Rob's light touch and lightning-fast hands really drive the band.  From thunderous tom, snare and cymbal work, to feather-light touches with brushes (and even claps/finger snaps) the dynamic range with which he plays  provides only not drive to the band, but add the depth and character so often missing in live performances.  With his Lennon-esque glasses and flowing hair, Cole El-Saleh is the epitome of cool.  Couple that with the fact that he plays one of the finest keyboard lines around AT THE SAME TIME he plays a fantastic bass line, and it is soon evident that he can back up those cool looks with old-fashioned musical bad-assedness as well.  On top of all this, both Cole and Rob contribute killer background vocals to the band sound.  Their soaring two- and three-part harmonies are able to stand up to Carolyn's powerful and soulful lead, transporting the listener above the lyrics and burying them in the groove of the song.

The magic of a tele in the hands of a master....
I can only imagine one guitar sound that could possibly stand up to the power of the vocals in the Carolyn Wonderland band and that is the dirty, twangy sound of a Telecaster played with the bridge pickup selected.  In addition to her stunning vocal work, Carolyn Wonderland is also an incredible guitar player, coaxing the most amazing tone and texture from her Thinline Tele.  Like it's owner, the guitar drips personality, sporting a fur mustache and reflective peace sign, and a cigarette burn between the nut and first tuning machine  that adds just the right amount of "street credibility". 

And the lap steel...
And the trumpet...
Like all my favorite blues guitarists, she eschews the complexity of multiple effects pedals, instead using her hands (and sometimes a little "body English") to coax the sounds she wants from her instrument. During the set, Carolyn also featured some slide work, choosing the lap steel over the tele for a fuller, darker sound.  To close the first set, she even brought the crowd to the Texas-Mexico border with a Latin inspired number sung in Spanish and accompanied by--of all things--some hot licks on the Trumpet. No matter how many times she shifted gears, the band found a way to grab hold and hang on, always adding to the sound and keeping the pocket and groove alive.  Truly one of the finest overall performances I have seen at the Ark (and that's saying something!).

What a night!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your source for information about the Southeast Michigan (SeMi) Live Music Scene. News, Venues, Reviews...a community about us, for us and by us. Please consider contributing an article: semibluegrass@gmail.com