August 24, 2012
Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of Sarah and The Tall Boys. That’s what I thought. Sarah and her boys fly way under the radar but for how much longer? She put on a lights out show at Johnny D’s last night and has a grinding tour schedule that could be a glide path to the stratosphere.
Remember Janis Joplin’s line in “Me and Bobby McGee?”
“Windshield wipers slapping time, I's holding Bobby's hand in mine, we sang every song that driver knew.”
I swear that in Sarah’s nearly two hour set, she sang close to twenty songs bam bam bam one after the other, maybe a minute to tune her rhythm guitar in between, occasionally give a line or two of intro, “I wrote this song with my father in law,” sings “The Mess You Made Of Me,” then on to the next one. Mostly written by Sarah, the songs feel fresh, lived in, a closely observed emotional life put to music. Taken as a whole, listening to her set is like riding a country rock blues bronco - at a gallop.
This woman can belt out zesty country two steps and downshift to searing, smoky ballads, throw in a few split register notes at the end of her phrasing, reminiscent of Susan Tedeschi or Janis Joplin, but you don’t think of anyone else but Sarah when she’s on stage.
She sings with a raw gutty conviction that resonates between your heart and your hips. Nothing filters the immediacy of her delivery.That gravelly voice sings of lust, heartbreak and hell-raising in the tradition of Janis Joplin. When she finishes a song, you cheer and wait for the next one you're pretty sure will barrel from the stage with the hypnotic sway, rumble and roar of a freight train.
And if you like to dance, as a bunch of people did last night, you don’t sit down very much. Watching dancers groove to her music seemed to energize Sarah, as if she needed any higher octane. Her energy level is intense.
The band drove here from another gig, plays tomorrow in CT at 2 PM and Wrentham, MA later in the day and has gigs from Burlington, VT to Washington, D.C. in six of the next eight days. Add together the potency of her voice, the variety of her set list, and the non-stop parade of songs, and you have the best value in your concert dollar you’re likely to have anytime soon.
It takes several songs to realize what a tight quartet you’re listening to. No showboating, guitar thrashing, or posing for effect. A steady bass and drum efficiently underpin Sarah's songs. The Tall Boy on lead guitar uses just enough creative firepower to complement Sarah’s vocal range, which by the way, can blow you back on your heels or make you involuntarily hold your breath when she pours it on in a raw bluesy ballad.
Brushing her long black hair from her face, straightening her black eye glass frames back up the bridge of her nose between songs, Sarah is the antithesis of a diva. Were it not for the brown and tan cowboy boots, she could easily be mistaken for a kindergarten teacher in a print cotton dress, the kind who hugs her students when they walk in the door.
Several times in this small club she pauses to thank us for coming out on a Friday night to see their show. Last year, Sarah and The Tall Boys, one of whom (bass player) is her husband, were invited to perform on the main stage at Rhythm ‘N Roots weekend in Charlestown, RI, advertised and rightly so as “New England’s Hottest Festival of Music and Dance,” where Grammy winners are standard fare on the program. Sarah and her fellas rocked the big place. Listen.
This year, Sarah and The Tall Boys perform on the Rhythm ‘n Roots Main Stage on Friday August 31, Sarah hosts a songwriting workshop then performs on the Workshop Stage on Saturday and caps the weekend performing at the Main Stage again Sunday afternoon. Not bad for a kid who grew up in Providence and moved to Chicago to launch her career.
Two friends of mine who know talent and love to dance said, “Go to this show tonight.” It’s only a matter of time before Sarah and The Tall Boys are nominated for a Grammy in the “Alt Country Blues” category. I’m lucky to have friends who are way ahead of the curve.
PS from pt at large: If I had brought along a note pad and camera, I'd include a set list and have a few photos to boot.