Jason Mendelson - I have heard of Jason Mendelson, but this is the first time I have caught him live. He plays an electric 12-string Rickenbacker, which immediately conjures up Roger McGuinn with that signature folk-rock hybrid sound. But the reason I have heard of him is his clever and audacious idea of writing songs to the many Metro stations of DC. This gives him interesting names and locations to riff off into historical issues or timeless emotions. His guitar playing is solid and his singing expressive, a bit ragged but stretching into the crazed territory of Brandon Ables a couple of times. Great ideas executed with enough style to elevate the substance.
Amber Dutton - This local folkie uses the time old tradition of acoustic guitar and voice to bring out her original songs. It is easy to see her subtle skills on guitar as she moves from a throbbing effect to delicate strumming to finger picking with ease and grace. She has a fine voice that also moves comfortably between delicate and resonate. And although much of this was thoughtful quiet folk music, which thankfully the audience of 35 was respectful of, she did have some fun at the end. Asking the audience to provide whistles evoking bird calls for her song "Little Bird" was a hit and endeared her all the further with the crowd. Clearly, this is someone welcome on any folk bill in town.
Norman Rockwell - This area quartet lives up to their name with that classic relaxed brand of Americana made famous in their namesake's paintings. They have a couple guitars going in front of a rhythm section, although a banjo is effectively used a few times. They have fine harmonies and their style reminds me of a band that used to do this well, Stripmall Ballads. They do not quite go for the sort of dense moments that the WeatherVanes or Wes Tucker hit, but they control their atmosphere quite well. I wish I could say the same for the club atmosphere, as the larger crowd now had far too many people paying their $10 cover to come in and have loud liquored up conversations. Otherwise, the Dunes is a nice club with no stage, but a big comfortable roominess. The band is better able to drown everyone out when they went double electric guitar for the last few songs and added more rock to the folk-rock in the manner of a Tom Petty, perhaps. They are a nice fit in this field for DC and play enough that they warrant a listen some time. Perhaps their Friday show at the Velvet Lounge may suit you?
Harris Face and the Restoration - Harris Face is the face of this band, as he does the expected songwriting, singing, acoustic guitar playing and harmonica wielding combination up front, center stage (or floor). The band is rock solid with the usual instruments and a steel guitar, which is thankfully blended delicately into the sound and not overly prominent. The breezy style comes from Face and the band easily adds nimble passages while keeping a great flow to the entire set. The singing is different as it has a breathy clipped style which adds just enough edge to the easy going songs. It is a subtle contrast, but the kind of which helps separate bands in this crowded Americana folk-rock genre. The crowd was digging the sounds and the personality here and it was a successful set. There is a lot of great music in DC that keeps me busier and busier and I have found more of it tonight. All the musicians created a positive atmosphere tonight.
Quote of the Night: Crowd interruption of Jason Mendelson's description of the history behind his song "West Hyattsville"...
"It was in the War of 1812 where the British were burning..."