Connect Recommends 

First Friday for Folk Music

Each month, The Savannah Folk Music Society hosts this family-oriented (no smoking or alcohol) coffeehouse-style concert, which is free to the public, with a recommended $2 donation to the performers. It brings together local artists with nationally-known touring acts.

This time around, the lineup includes:

Leslie Helpert, a touring songwriter who’s new to the area; Four Shillings Short, a California-based duo offering an eclectic mix of acoustic world music (see Music Menu for full description); and old-time Americana trio The Wiyos (see Music Interview) – also making their first appearance at this Savannah institution.

Only 25, Helpert studied at The Berklee College of Music, and her vocal style – which merges the genres of soul, pop, jazz and folk – is said to be informed by the works of both Nina Simone and Edie Brickell (!). To my ear, her voice and melodic sense is reminiscent of the great Rickie Lee Jones. She’s readying her third indie album of guitar-backed songs and prose pieces for release as you read this.

For more info on this show or The Folk Music Society in general, contact their President Hank Weisman at (912)786-6953. Fri., 7:30 pm, Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church.

Tony Williamson & Jeff Autry

Once again, noted luthier (and bluegrass aficionado) Randy Wood has booked another stellar evening of traditional American music into the small, 100-seat concert hall adjacent to his instrument shop in Bloomingdale.

This time around, it’s a double bill of mandolinist Tony Williamson and guitarist Jeff Autry.

Williamson is best known as one half of The Williamson Brothers, a rural North Carolina duo that came to prominence in the late 1960s and has racked up fans and critical accolades ever since. A regular performer at Doc Watson’s annual Merlefest, he appears in concert often with a number of Symphonic Orchestras and well as with such bluegrass and country stars as David Grisman, Tim O’Brien, Tut Taylor, and others.

He was a member of the Bluegrass Alliance (which also included Vince Gill, Sam Bush and Tony Rice), and he’s recorded with a veritable who’s who of the genre, such as Vassar Clements, Jerry Douglas and Ricky Skaggs.

Autry, on the other hand, graduated from the ranks of traditional bluegrass session stardom to the forefront of the New Grass movement a few years back. He’s known for mixing his picking with a little swing, some country, and even a touch of funk. When not doing gigs with folks like Tony Williamson, he’s collaborating with people like Scott Vestal.

In other words, this is yet another chance to see two of the best in the business up close and personal for only $10. For advance ticket info, call Randy at (912)748-1930. Sat., 8 pm, Randy Woods Concert Hall (Bloomingdale).

The Jeff & Vida Band

Well, it would seem on the basis of this installment of Connect Recommends that the week of June 2nd through the 8th is a great time to be a roots music enthusiast in Savannah, Georgia.

Besides A-list bluegrass pickers and buzz-worthy old-time groups, we’re also treated to a return engagement by New Orleans’ sensations The Jeff & Vida Band.

One of the liveliest Americana acts on the circuit, the trio of Jeff Burke, Vida Wakeman and Mike Kerwin make a joyous racket that is at once serenely beautiful and foot-stompingly (is that a word?) off the rails.

Wakeman’s deft touch on acoustic guitar and wide-eyed stage presence meshes almost perfectly with Burke’s lightning-fast banjo and mandolin work, while Kerwin’s stoic vibe and stand-up bass hold the whole thing together.

While new converts to traditional mountain music (a la the soundtracks to Songcatcher or O Brother Where Art Thou?) always get a real thrill from this group, it’s no secret that the band has thrown more contemporary influences into their mix from the get-go. In fact, one can make out the rhythms of early rock & roll, Everly Brothers-style vocal dips, and a hint of vaudevillian swing in many of their previously released originals.

However, with their brand-new CD Loaded, the band has finally owned up to their varied record collections, and come clean, working hard to integrate their (slightly) more modern influences without trivializing the foundation of the group – or alienating their core audience.

They succeed in spades. The new, more fully-realized sound of The Jeff & Vida Band – complete with Buck Owens-style chicken-picking and cut-time snare drum – makes perfect sense and feels as natural as such a progression could be.

Still, the jacket photo – with its oversaturated colors and badass electric guitar in Jeff’s hand – feels like they view this is their Newport ‘65, their line in the sand. Either you’re with ‘em or you’re not.

I’m with ‘em all the way...Till the wheels fall off and burn. Mon., 8 pm, American Legion Post #135 (1108 Bull St.) - FREE.

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Jim Reed

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