Saturday, May 28, 2011

Blake Thomas/Whitney Mann/Count This Penny; May 28, 2011; High Noon Saloon

Blake Thomas moved to Minneapolis in October after spending six years, more or less, in Madison. During those years, the longest stretch he’s lived anywhere since he left home, he released his first three records, made a lot of friends and made even more fans. They all came out tonight to celebrate the release of his fourth CD, the Window and the Light. The songs on Flatlands, his previous release, spilled out him in a very short amount time, the product of an uncertain and emotional time in his life. In contrast, the songs on this new CD were years in the making. While they don’t have the same emotional punch as the confessionals on Flatlands, they are just as strong and demonstrate an increased range in his songwriting. From the Tom Waits-ish “I Just Don’t care like I Did Before” to the excellent “Cradle to the Ground,” this is a different Blake Thomas than the sensitive singer-songwriter we’d gotten to know over the course of three records. For one, he likes to rock a lot more.

And the title track is a prime example of this, an extended jam that well surpasses the five minute mark live and on CD. The all star band, which included Mary Gaines, Chris Wagoner, Louka Patenaude, Chris Sasman, and Josh Harty, that backed him tonight recreated the recorded version well. In addition there were many guest musicians in the course of the evening. Jeremiah Nelson played guitar on “Bad Love,” a song he had written that Blake covers on the record. Nelson also gets a shout out in one Blake’s songs, “Tell Jerry he can have the Mossman when exhaustion takes me.” The Mossman in question is an acoustic guitar from a company that burned down many years ago. Teddy Pedriana added some of his psychedelic keyboards while his Blueheel bandmate Justin Bricco added the face melting guitar solos. On the songs from his earlier releases, the core band of Sasman, Patenaude and Harty were joined by the ridiculously talented Shauncey Ali on fiddle. Perhaps the special-est guest of the night was Blake’s fiancĂ© Mary Fox who took a turn at the microphone for the duet “Let Me Play in Your Show,” a song she had written about Blake many years ago.

Tonight was a co-release show with Whitney Mann who was releasing her second EP. Mann is a favorite of local critics for her sweet voice and sincere songs. Her talented band also included her fiancé Kyle on guitar. At least half the good sized crowd was there to see her, and it was easy to see why she has so many fans. Also on the bill were Madison newcomers Count This Penny. I had met two of the trio, guitarists/vocalists Alan and Amanda Rigell, in my basement for a show there and it was nice to finally see them play. Their third member is a banjo player who lends their Appalachian pop an authentic air. Unpretentious and refreshing, Count This Penny is a new local band worth checking out. How can you not like a band that is named after a Sesame Street skit?

Count This Penny

Blake Thomas and his band

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