Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Highballers - The Hello Strangers -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Jul20 2013

The Hello Strangers - From the rural terrain of Pennsylvania located between Hagerstown, MD and as state park dedicated to one of the worst US Presidents, James Buchanan, comes this sister act complete with rhythm section and lead guitar. The two sisters harmonize like sisters should with one adding some acoustic guitar and the other focusing on vocals with a touch of percussion and button accordion. And they all play Country and Western music the way I like to hear it, with this focus on the Western featuring those scrumptious harmonies along with honkytonk rhythms and crisp lead guitar. They rock out at times, pull back on others while smoothly transitioning betwen the more quiet and the more raucous songs of their catalog. The quieter songs struggled to stay above the din of a typically loud Saturday night crowd and they may have adjusted their set a bit more to alleviate this. But aside from that, they did everything right and easily won this large crowd over, at least those listening.

The Highballers - Most DC music buffs should be familiar with this band by now, as they have made a recognizable name for themselves now both here and even some other areas that they have toured through. That is evident enough with the strong crowd here tonight ready to kick back and enjoy this brand of old rock'n'roll/western swing/various roots music style delivered by this quintet. They have the songs that can pull in a crowd, whether they lean toward ballads or push the rock'n'roll forward. The vocals are smooth and surprisingly understated, but rippling with feeling. The guitars and bass playing snap off various runs to really liven things up, while the drummer accurately punctuates these musical sentences as needed. Everything is crisp and flowing tonight, as these guys have their class and form at their highest level to date. And I review a lot of albums by bands like this and these guys do it better than all but the best of this field. So it is no surprise they pull in the crowds they do. And although they are losing their bass player to what sounds like a fun adventure to Ecuador (where he can hopefully connect with some fascinating musicians down there), the Highballers will continue. So good luck Michael, and may continued success find the Highballers.

Quote of the Night: Paraphrased from the Highballers singer who tells a long story of playing long sets and trying to explain how they are careful on choosing cover songs and not butchering the classics... "We actually played 'Folsom Prison Blues' when requested. At first, were like: nah, we carefully select our covers and then someone yells 'Here's $140'--Hello I'm Johnny Cash!!!  Yeah, we're prostitutes."

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