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Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Night of Rockabilly Country with Kenny Kens and the Brown Bottle Boys

Country Like It Should be Sung with Kenny Kens
The great thing about this blog (and live music in general) is all the great people I've met through my musical adventures.  I've met tons of local musicians, sat down with many of the great venue owners in the area and jammed with countless folks who share my passion for live, local music.  So it was at a friend's holiday party/music jam a couple months back that I found myself in the living room, well after midnight, laughing, smiling and  belting out classic bluegrass and country songs at the top of my lungs with Kenny Kens.  Like so many of the people I meet, we traded Facebook info and went our separate ways.  In the ensuing months, I discovered Kenny was also aspiring band leader and tremendous singer/songwriter and started looking for an excuse to catch him out playing live.  This past weekend, I noticed he was playing with a "full country band" (the Brown Bottle boys) including--of course--a pedal steel guitar at O'Mara's.  This venue, a great Irish Pub, and even better restaurant is only 2 doors down from my old house in Berkley and is well known for providing excellent live entertainment.  I've seen some killer Irish bands there (hmmm...I need to remember to write one of those up).  Since I'd had a long week, and needed some revitalization, I grabbed my camera and set out for a night of live, local music.

Old School Country with the Brown Bottle Boys
Like so many others, my wife turned up her nose when I told her I was going out to see a country show.  Perhaps she was picturing what passes for commercial country  these days, with pretty boy Disney-pop and  "bro country" singers shaking their butts across pyrotechnical charged, multimedia enhanced stages shouting and rapping songs that only qualify as country because they use the word "truck" one and a while.  Or worse, the embroidered pant suit and string tie, designer cowboy boots, "live from Branson", He Haw Country parody acts springing up on YouTube and in malls near you.  I understand her reluctance...that stuff is tough to watch for me too.  However, I knew that Kenny was the exception, singing old county tunes the way they were intended--with passion, and soul, and respect for the traditions from which they arose.

Can't Be a Country Band Without One of These!
On this night Kenny did not disappoint.  Playing before a small, but lively crowd of family and fans alike in the intimate settings offered by O'Mara's he presented a wide ranging and immaculately entertaining set of classic songs by guys named Lefty, Ernest, Hank and George and mixed in a few original songs to boot:  songs about the American experience; about love at it's best (and worst); songs about trains, and jails, and addictions; songs we all can care about and connect with.  The quintessential band leader, Kenny kept the show rolling--interacting as easily with the crowd as he did with the band, calling out the name of the song and the chords for the new guys and adjusting things on the fly to insure everyone was having a great time.  He had the perfect warm-yet-gritty baritone for these songs and blended effortlessly into killer harmonies when the Brown Bottle Boys chipped in on the chorus.

Brian Keeping the Drive Alive
The Brown Bottle Boys add a little twist to the Country sound with a little modern edge.  Besides some killer baselines and harmonies, Steve Wyse upped the Rockabilly credibility with a truly unique and spectacular blue-glowing Doghouse Bass.  Guitarist Brian (Coogan?) was easily forgiven for the sin of playing twangy, county-blues licks on a Strat instead of a Tele, mostly because it sounded so damn good!  His guitar set up this night was perfect.  Loud enough to drive the band and dirty up the sound, yet lush and mellow enough for the vocals to stand on their own; driving, pulsing rhythm licks  spiced liberally with twangy, chicken-pickin' fills;  and high-energy leads with just a touch of Detroit rock-n-roll. Why the pedal steel guitar--with it's metalic flake paint and oodles of chrome--never caught on with the car guys in the Motor City is a mystery to me.  On this night, Kevin (Morris?) brought the country with his killer chops on the pedal steel.  Surprisingly, he also proved to be an exceptional keyboard player including a memorable lead break on Johnny B. Good during the second set. 

Unfortunately, I didn't catch the names of the rest of the band.  The drummer for the night was perfect, playing a stripped down kit with brushes and a soft touch.  During a second set, a fiddle player joined the band and contributed some interesting melody work that perfectly complemented the country sound the band was putting down.  A friend of the band sat in on guitar for a couple songs and threw in some more modern rock/blues licks.  The night was turning into quite the party as the third set kicked off. 

Unfortunately, the long week caught up to me and I had to bow out early.  As I was leaving, I saw a couple folks tuning up and some more instrument cases discretely peeking out from under the tables, so I imagine the night turned into a bit of a country throwdown, free-for-all (and if it did, I'll kick myself for months--I had the mandolin in the car....).  Feel free to share with your friends.   If you want more live, local music information, follow us at www.semibluegrass.com or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/semibluegrass)

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