By Jordi Oliveres
Folk singer/songwriter’s today face the challenge of writing original songs in a musical style with as many conventions as baroque choral music. (By "original," I mean: without folksy sentimentality.) Rory Sullivan clearly realizes this and, although sometimes he treads a bit too closely to the insipid clichés of his genre, last Saturday night at Arlene’s Grocery he and his band, The Second Season, demonstrated that traditionally written folk tunes, when expertly delivered, can still sound fresh.
The occasion for the concert was the release of Rory Sullivan’s sophomore album, Rory Sullivan and The Second Season. In the spirit of any respectable CD release show, the new album was performed in its entirety, with an Allman Brothers cover (“Midnight Rider”) thrown in for an encore. While some of the earlier songs in the set like “Ride the Rails” sounded like an oddly mellow version of The Who's “Baba O’Riley,” others, like “Clearing Arizona” - featuring one of the best pre-chorus chord progressions ever played within the beer-stained walls of Arlene’s Grocery - had an exciting edge and sophistication.
The Second Season are Ryan Gleason on bass, Mutt Musty on drums, Tommy Bohlen on pedal steel, and Alvaro Kapaz on guitar. Mutt and Ryan sing impeccable harmonies and their grooves lock as tightly as their voices. Kapaz showed off his solo skills on “I Can’t Love You,” but spent most of the show playing tasteful licks and enjoying the taste of his gum. And Bohlen seems to understand that the key to pedal steel playing, like drinking, is moderation.
But the show was really about Rory, and the night’s finest moment was his solo performance of “Next to Me.” Lush guitar harmonies, beautiful lyrics, and powerful singing had everyone in the room hypnotized. In a style of music that can sometimes feel passé, Rory Sullivan makes it clear that there are still great folk songs to be written.