Saturday, July 05, 2008

Blake Thomas & his band/Jentri Colello; July 5, 2008; Café Montmartre

When Blake Thomas moved back to Madison after a sabbatical in Austin, he brought with him a half dozen songs all spilling out of a broken heart. It took a few more months to write the rest of the songs that would make up Flatlands, his third full length, and even more time to get into a studio to set them to tape. All in all it seemed like a long journey to this day, but also curiously like it happened overnight.

The first recording of the record was done on Labor Day ’07, all eleven tracks committed to tape in a marathon one day recording session that yielded pretty stunning results. Even so, it wasn’t deemed “done” until Eric Anderson added keyboard parts and the staggeringly talented Shauncey Ali added his trademark fiddle. Oh, and the “drunken choir” had to have their say. The soon-to-be-classic barroom shout-along “I Don’t Want Your Heart I Want Your Liver” needed their hootin’ and hollerin’ for that realistic feel, and they were more than happy to repeat their role for the CD release show.

The night ended with an encore of that song, complete with broken glass, since “the band” didn’t know any more songs. These days Blake usually plays solo, but the CD release show called for something special. The band assembled tonight represented for the most part the players on the CD, the only notable absences were Chris Boeger on bass and Adam Davis on guitar. Luckily Justin Perkins (who produced the record) and Josh Harty were available. Like any good CD release show, they played the entire record in order… which is the way Blake has always insisted these songs were meant to be heard.

A cycle of heartbreak and loneliness that followed him to Texas and back, Flatlands may be the most complete record of his career. While songs like “Please Cash This Check” find him at the depths of despair, he only recently seemed to realize it is a really sad song. “You’ve Got Me Feeling Like the Moon” is a stunningly smart simile of a story diagramming the hopelessness of that relationship. While the moon may long for the sun, they will never occupy the same sky, as he puts so eloquently in song, “You’ve got me feeling like the moon, who’s just longing for the sun. Sometimes we’ll meet up in the afternoon and I’ll chase if you run.” Sigh. At the record’s end there is finally a glimpse of happiness in the final track; “In the Morning” sees hope with the dawn.

Before the full band took the stage, Blake and Shauncey treated us to a few songs from previous releases. The gorgeous simplicity of these versions (especially the aching “Kaitlyn”) has prompted more than one person to wish for a whole album’s worth of just the two of them. Jentri Colello started the night promptly at 10 with her own batch of smart, beautiful songs. Her debut EP Bird of Prey, which captures five of these songs, will see a release show of its own next weekend.

The last piece of tonight’s puzzle was comedian Jeff Lang, who while not particularly funny, did emcee the whole event quite well. A few of his jokes elicited chuckles from the crowd, but I thought he missed a chance at the best punchline of the night when he claimed that unlike most comedians he didn’t make jokes about not getting enough sex, saying “it’s never been a problem for me.” To me “because it’s not funny” would have been a much better answer. In fact, it was Jentri who got the biggest laugh of the night with a Jeremiah Nelson joke, “Did you hear about the guy who wrote a book on penguins?” “He should have used paper.”

Ba-dum bum. Thank you goodnight.

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