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Review: Rod Picott and Amanda Shires swap songs and stories at [email protected]




(This is the 49th entry in Soundcheck's summer concert series, The 50-50 Club. For previous entries, click here.)

A rainbow appeared over downtown St. Petersburg as I pulled up to [email protected] for an acoustic show by Maine singer-guitarist Rod Picott and Texas singer-fiddler Amanda Shires, who also performed Saturday night at WMNF's 30th Birthday Party at the Ritz Ybor.

About 70 people were there for the food, the music and the welcoming sense of cameraderie engendered by shows at the intimate, inviting [email protected]

The venue is known more for art shows and theatrical presentations than live music, but this was exactly the sort of show that should play there more often -- warm, hushed, personal. And Shires even sold some artwork (well, crafts, really; she made a series of pins and magnets commemorating the time on tour that their rental car hit a deer).

After a brief welcome, the duo eased into Mean Little Girl (Ruby), a rootsy ballad about a Bonnie Parker-esque robber who turns her gun on herself while on the lam in Vegas.

"First song of the night, and there's already been a death in the set," Picott chuckled. "Must be folk music."

Shires and Picott have forged solid careers for themselves as solo artists, but as a duo, their blend of delicate chamber pop and world-weary folk gives them a little extra Carter Family warmth. 

Two immediate comparisons jump out:

1. Hugh Laurie and Alyson Hannigan, because when they stand onstage together, that is EXACTLY who Rod Picott and Amanda Shires look like.

2. Slaid Cleaves and Alison Krauss. This one makes a little more sense, because Picott is a childhood friend of alt-country favorite Cleaves, and he's toured (and recorded) with Krauss. And with her fiddle perched on her shoulder, and her sonorous Texas warble wafting sweetly through the air, Shires is an obvious descendent of the Krauss musical tradition. (On Sunday, she did the vocal part on Circus Girl, a song Picott originally sang with Krauss.)

You can lay the imagery on pretty thick with these two, if you're so inclined: Dusty Texas dirt roads, creaky fireside rocking chairs, riverside picnics in autumn. It all fits.

The tracks on which Picott sang lead were the sort of rustic, rootsy story-songs that have won him fans around the country, especially at WMNF-88.5. People shouted out requests, including the rousing ender I Coulda Been the King.

My favorite track of the night was a song that sounded like it could have been a hit -- Stray Dogs, from Picott's 2002 CD of the same name. It reminded me of a track by Barenaked Ladies, or possibly Bon Jovi during his country phase. Just a solid, rollicking alt-country track.

But I found myself transfixed whenever the cute-as-a-button Shries took her turn on lead vocals. Her fiddling and ukulele-playing put the "western" in "country and western," yet songs like Mineral Wells and Angels and Acrobats were hushed, rueful gems that any fan of quirky indie pop might enjoy. More than once was I reminded of the White Stripes.

Throughout the night, both artists swapped stories of life on the road between songs, including one about a trip to a snake-handling church and another about hitting that aforementioned deer. Picott talked about his childhood in snowy South Berwick, Maine, where you have to wear bread bags over your feet so your feet don't get wet in the snow. I did not know this.

The enthusiastic, mostly older crowd loved the tales as much as the music, which is really one of the biggest appeals of Americana music as a whole.

The fans gave Picott and Shires two standing ovations on the night -- one before the encore, and one after. And Picott, whose lyrics reveal a man who knows a thing or two about tough times, sure seemed to appreciate it.

"Playing songs," he said, "beats the s--- out of hanging dryway."

That may be. But I'm sure if you asked, Picott could tell you some great stories about that, too.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:13pm]


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