by Laura Wasson
Last night I had the pleasure of catching Goodnight, Texas at the Lower East Side's Arlene’s Grocery. Named for the tiny town at the exact midpoint between their respective homes in San Francisco and North Carolina, Avi Vinocur and Patrick Dyer Wolf's American folk-revival band has been crisscrossing the country in support of their debut LP, A Long Life of Living. The evening proved a homecoming of sorts for Wolf, who spent a portion of his childhood in the Northeast, and suitably, the small space was packed to the gills with dear friends and ardent fans who relished every minute of the nearly hour-long set.
The boys began on a playful note, opening with a pseudo-warmup of "The Star Spangled Banner" that instantly put the crowd in high, participatory spirits before moving straight into "The Railroad" and "Meet Me by the Smokestack"—both rootsy, bluegrass-tinged songs that played to Vinocur and Wolf's strengths on guitar, banjo, and mandolin.
The group's sound is American in the strictest sense, with a heightened focus on the storytelling. Similar to The Band, Bob Dylan, and more recently The Raconteurs, Goodnight, Texas put a premium on thoughtful lyricism. Gone are the paeans to drunken nights with friends or slapdash love songs that seem to encompass every artist's oeuvre these days. Their work is much more considered and elegant, deftly weaving tales of angst, sorrow, and—yes—love that feel real and earnest.
This was most clear on "I'm Going to Work on Maggie's Farm Forever," a subtle and pained reprise to Dylan's classic, as well as "Jesse Got Trapped in a Coal Mine." Both were moving moments to be sure, although it was difficult to tell just how closely the audience was listening to the words. These aren't happy, lighthearted songs. For all their foot-stomping catchiness (and there was plenty foot stomping—apparently that's very "country"), there is a darkness lurking in all of them. I'm not entirely certain the audience picked up on any of that brooding undercurrent.
I would be remiss not to mention the exceptional playing of Vinocur and Wolf's brothers in arms: bassist Bobby Kendall and drummer Alex Nash, who both provided a level of depth to Vinocur and Wolf's soothing vocals and playing. The group closed with the final track from the LP, "Car Parts and Linens," although the hungry crowd quickly demanded an encore. The lads were happy to oblige, clearly very excited by the enthusiastic reception.
Perhaps more than anything, Goodnight, Texas—much like Florida's Thomas Wynn and the Believers—makes this Southern girl nostalgic for a time and place that I chose to leave behind. I can't really imagine what going back to Louisiana would be like; New York is so much my home now. At least with Goodnight, Texas I can smile and remember my history while still enjoying and living in the present.