January 19, 2013
Think of the most gorgeous sunset you’ve ever seen and translate it into three-part harmony. Brother Sun is earth, wind and fire on a folk stage. With a collection of guitars and an electric piano in view, it comes as a surprise when the three men approach the mics and launch the set with a breathtaking flight of a cappella singing with the gospel tinged “What Must Be Done.” Close your eyes. The sweet, richly textured harmonies sound for all the world like the Grammy award-winning African American female a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey In The Rock – with balls.
Each of these men can hold a stage as a solo artist. Together, they’re transformed into a magnificent force of folk alchemy that has been dazzling audiences for two years.
Joe Jencks makes eye contact with Pat Wictor, and Greg Greenway who penned “What Must Be Done,” and grins. Something special is going on. The full house audience, mostly graying veterans of the folk movement who wore flowers in their hair during the sixties and seventies, softly sings the choruses. “This is some of the best singing we’ve ever done,” Greenway says to his two comrades as the applause fades. No kidding. The rest of the night is filled with more of it.
True confession: I’ve disdained folk music for a while and had to be coaxed to come to this show. Brother Sun is beckoning me back to the fold.
They certainly look like folk singers. Pat Wictor, with his long reddish locks, goatee and mustache to match, is from New York. Joe Jencks, with luxurious tight ringlets of russet curls cascading down his mountain man broad shoulders, hails from Chicago. Bostonian Greg Greenway, dressed in black, could double for a college professor out with friends on Saturday night. Greenway is in rare form. His erudite, goofy patter cracks up Wictor, Jencks, and the rest of us.
What makes these guys so good together is that they’re so different. If there was ever a comedy country folk circuit, Greenway could make a fortune. Joe Jencks’ deep, commanding voice is the gravity of Brother Sun. Wictor’s deft picking, guitar fills, and harmonies offer balance and counterpoint. Holding his guitar in his lap like a slide, he’s the sly music engine of Brother Sun.
“In the wee hours after a day of driving this song just fell out of the sky,” Greenway says as he leans into a delicately evocative “Highway 4 AM”. Joe’s baritone, swelling from his great barrel chest, is perfect for the working fisherman’s song “Saint Christopher” that follows it.
Pat Wictor’s slide guitar style and throaty delivery are an effective change of pace for his bluesy composition, “Pushing Stones.” Wictor also takes the lead on a cover of Mose Allison’s “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy,” and he makes it count.
Jencks says, “My father died on June 21, 1991, I am now older than my father when he died. I was driving around Rockport late one night and this song ‘Sad’ fell right into my head,” Once again, the audience softly sings the choruses to the gentle ballad. From the first song until this one, an invisible but palpable aura infuses this darkened room. It takes musicians confident in their own styles and material to share a stage together - and for these three gifted singer/songwriters to realize that their lush harmonizing on each other's songs packs a stronger wallop than if they'd been sung solo.
Greenway sings “Jericho Road,” in honor of Martin Luther King. It’s an emotional rendering, but all tonight's songs have an emotional charge. “Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about ‘the crooked road’ of love and he challenged us to keep connected,” Greenway says as he introduces the song.
Then comes a Pete Seeger moment with “The House That Jack Built”. No folk concert can be complete without a labor union song extolling the dignity of labor and brutality of the companies that tried to crush them. Vintage folk.
Brother Sun’s rich repertoire tonight is filled with originals and a couple of covers spanning blues, folk, and American roots music. Just when you’ve settled into their groove, Greenway floors us with the impish send-up “Fox News” sung as a cappella doo-wop, with split register notes that could have come off the streets of Brooklyn. Judging by the audience's response to the decidedly partisan lyrics, there aren’t many Republicans in the house.
Three of a kind is not much of a hand in poker but put these three singer/songwriters together and you’ve got a Full House.
“What Must Be Done”
“Come With Me”
“Well Well Well”
"Highway 4 AM”
Here's a little youtube to give you a teeny idea of their style
“The House That Jack Built”
“Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy”
“Lady of The Harbor”
“Go Tell Mary”
"Love Is The Water”
“All I Want Is A Garden”
“In The Name Of Love”