Monday, May 26, 2014

Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle a treat in Anaheim

My review was originally posted on The Orange County Register site on Sunday, May 25, 2014.

Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle a treat in O.C.

The veteran storytellers reworked their staples and covered everyone from the Beatles to Gnarls Barkley at stirring Grove gig.



Where: City National Grove of Anaheim
When: May 24
The aptly named program “Songs and Stories, Together Onstage” was just that Saturday night (May 24, 2014) at City National Grove of Anaheim, as singer-songwriters Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle teamed for an easygoing acoustic concert where they shared details about the events that inspired specific pieces before masterfully performing them.
Other times, specifically during an inviting opening take on the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie” and a wondrous, flamenco-tinged version of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” later in the show, they played favorites simply for the sheer fun of it.
Earle offered the first original of the night, “The Devil’s Right Hand,” which enabled him to talk about growing up in Texas, where he liked to hunt and fish, and how he now celebrates the song’s enduring message about gun control. One of the more rousing tracks on Earle’s outstanding 1988 album “Copperhead Road,” it was delivered by the author accompanied only by his guitar while occasionally blasting away on his harmonica.
Then it was Colvin’s turn: “It’s really an honor to be up here with Steve,” she mentioned, noting how many different topics Earle has tackled. “I only write breakup songs,” she added, garnering laughs. “I found my niche and there it is.”
But as Colvin proved repeatedly, there are plenty of nuances left to explore amid the ups and downs of relationships. Her original song “Another Long One” featured a funny tale about getting hired by Suzanne Vega as a backing vocalist in the late ’80s but being warned to stay away from the drummer. She didn’t, and the ill-fated romance gave rise to the melodic confessional she sang with wistful grace Saturday.
There also was an obvious mutual admiration for each other’s talents, making for a rich, remarkably relaxed 110-minute performance. Even the genesis of the tour was worked into the storytelling, as Earle noted: “This tour was Shawn’s idea, put together largely by text.”
But the songs themselves did the heavy lifting. A beautiful version of Earle’s “Goodbye” was an early standout, with the country-folk tune’s elegiac feel enriched by gentle picking and his deep baritone, while a subsequent cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” further cast a welcome spotlight on his vocal powers.
The blending of these two voices often heightened the strength of their songs. Earle’s “Fearless Heart” was especially potent, with Colvin’s guitar also enhancing it dramatically. Earle returned the favor on her song “Diamond in the Rough,” for which he played an octave mandolin to add texture, especially on the song’s buildup.
The end arrived too soon but featured a stirringly reworked version of Colvin’s best-known work, the Grammy-winning “Sunny Came Home” (which she described as “a murder ballad”) and a rousing Celtic-styled take on Earle’s “Galway Girl,” featuring more of his mandolin picking.
The encore allowed one more chance to play a favorite cover, this time an affecting take on the Beatles’ “Baby’s in Black,” before closing out with a memorable rendition of Earle’s “Copperhead Road.”

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