Traditionally, the last Grateful Fred’s of the year has a party atmosphere and so it was tonight when we were treated to an awesome performance by Chicago’s “best emerging act”, the high-energy bluegrass band The Way Down Wanderers ,ably supported by Liverpool singer songwriter John Jenkins and his 5-piece James Street Band.
John opened the evening with a fine set drawn [mostly] from his excellent new double album “Window Shopping In Nashville” ,which was recorded earlier this year ,using notable session musicians, including Scott Poley, Chris Howard and Scott Whitley.
John is a well-known figure on the Liverpool music scene , having been a member of The Persuaders and Come In Tokio. His music can best be described as melodic , country-tinged rock and this was well-received by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic Grateful Fred’s audience.
One of the highlights of John’s album is “I Was Looking For You” ,which he co-wrote with none other than Chris Curtis of The Searchers ,with whom John worked in the local tax office!
However, my favourite performance of tonight’s show was a superb version of the album’s opening track , a cracking country-rock number called “Silhouettes” ,which featured a wonderful duet with the amazing Megan-Louise ,who is surely a country star-in-the-making.
John has the knack of being able to combine melodic, catchy tunes with meaningful lyrics ,as shown on his performances of “Same Thing Every Night” and “Get Her Out My Mind” and he and the band earned a well-deserved encore , finishing on an optimistic note with “Some Day We’ll See Better Days”.
The Way Down Wanderers were formed by long-time friends [and soon-to-be brothers-in-law] Austin Thompson [guitar and vocals] and Collin Krause [mandolin, fiddle and vocals] in their hometown of Peoria, Illinois. They were joined by John Merikoski [drums and spoons] , John Williams [upright bass] and Travis Kowalsky [banjo and fiddle] to form one of the most exciting and unconventional bluegrass bands on the planet. Highly-skilled musicians, they combine that “high lonesome sound” with an almost punk-like energy.
Not many bluegrass bands can boast two highly individualistic , dread-locked singers and a rock drummer who doubles on spoons! The band have been together for four years and they are as tight as the proverbial canard’s derriere.
The Wanderers are no slouches as songwriters either ,as evidenced by break-up song “Circles”, “There’s A New Day Dawning” and “Treading The Water”, which featured a superb mandolin solo from Collin. If one song conveys the essence of this extraordinary band ,it has to be “Wildfire” which perfectly demonstrates their unique blend of harmony and energy [check out the video on You Tube].
The Wanderers treated us to not one ,but two, Bob Dylan covers with “Blowing In The Wind” [beautifully sung by bassist John Williams] and a gorgeous version of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, which featured a duet between Austin and Collin.
After such an inspirational performance, an encore was a foregone conclusion and the Wanderers came down from the stage to play a rousing acoustic version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” amongst the audience and so concluded a wonderful evening.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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