Midweek Muse: Winsome—and then some…

Author/Historian Kevin Belmonte fills in for Kelly this week with a special guest review of Charlie Peacock’s latest work.

Winsome—and then some…

by Kevin Belmonte

The No Man’s Land Album and Tour.

Charlie Peacock in Concert at Café 939,

Boston, Mass., Thursday, October 4th, 2012

First, the album. In the twelve song-cycle that comprises No Man’s Land, Charlie Peacock has mined the deep, soul-replenishing vein of American roots music—and struck gold.

It’s music that flows from a rich, abiding sense of place: the deep south of Louisiana. Peacock draws from the many streams that flow there: gospel, country, folk-Americana, and jazz. The result is quite possibly the finest recording of his storied career.

His gifts as a keyboardist and vocalist have never sounded better. By turns subtle, plaintive—even elegiac, as on the track, “Only You Can,” he can in a thrice conjure a raucous, bayou-flavored stomp, as in “Ghost of the Kitty Cat.” Always, there are lyrics like novels writ small. Images and memories—interspersed.

We know musicians by the company they keep. And Peacock’s generosity as an artist shines throughout this album. In a word, no one could walk the places of No Man’s Land were it not for the incredible array of musicians who concerted their talents to create this music.

Here, the work of guitarist Jerry McPherson is a revelation, as are the performances given on accordion by Jeff Taylor, Jeff Coffin on woodwinds, percussionist Steve Brewster, Bruce Bouton on pedal and lap steel guitars, Andy Leftwich on mandolin, fiddle and banjo, Roy Agee and Mike Haynes on horns, along with backing vocals by Ruby Amanfu and Sam Ashworth (Charlie’s son) who also plays acoustic guitar and banjo. Guest performers also share their gifts in rich profusion: Bryan Sutton (acoustic guitar), Phillip Lassiter and Jason Eskridge (trumpet), and Derek Wells (guitar).

Some artists seek the ever-elusive sound that makes for a career-defining album, and never find it. Charlie Peacock has. His music is winsome—and then some.

* * *

My use of the word “winsome” here is deliberate. It’s the word Peacock used when asked to describe the music of No Man’s Land during a pre-concert reception at Sel de la Terre in Boston. For a few moments, a Q and A took place. One guest wondered: “If you could describe the music you’re making now in one word, what would it be?”

A thoughtful pause, then a smile.

“Winsome,” was the reply.

So followed as fine a concert as Boston could boast in many a night. There was a generous sampling of songs from No Man’s Land: “Death Trap,” “Mystic,” “Ghost of the Kitty Cat,” “Voice of the Lord,” and “Only You Can.” In tandem were richly re-imagined songs from earlier stages of Peacock’s musical journey: “Lie Down In The Grass,” “Big Man’s Hat,” and “In The Light.” Taken together, it was a top shelf set that seemed all too brief. It rocked the house.

Prior to this, the audience was treated to a superb opening performance from The Lone Bellow, a roots-folk-alternative trio who will release their new studio album (produced by Peacock) on January 22. The group is absolutely one to watch, and the passion that shapes their music is captured in a song they sang like a life-changing anthem, “Teach Me to Know.”

Later, The Lone Bellow joined Peacock onstage, along with another guest artist New Englanders know well, Jake Armerding. On mandolin and violin, he traded bravura solos with saxophonist Jeff Coffin (celebrated for his work with The Dave Matthews Band).

The venue, Café 939, only allows for about 150 people. But however modest in size, that entire room was filled with music from a big river of sound. Take this to the bank: the No Man’s Land tour is not to be missed.

One final note.

During the pre-concert Q and A, Peacock spoke of aging gracefully. And well he might. 56 years young, he’s not only aging gracefully, he’s aging like fine Louisiana bourbon.

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