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Moe Loughran

Dear Jim.

That’s how Moe Loughran’s note to me begins. It’s a short note, just enough to convey a sense of purpose, and ask for some press on the songwriter’s upcoming set at a local coffeehouse.

“Hope this letter finds you well,” she continues – and although it does not, there’s no way she could possibly know that would be the case, and not much she could do about it anyway. That’s what I’m conditioned to assume.

So, I do my best to quickly take stock of what her art’s all about, as I do from week to week with any number of touring acts making their winding way through our local nightclub and restaurant scene en route to – one can only hope – bigger and better things. It’s a frequently monotonous, often dispiriting, occasionally refreshing exercise (or, should I more accurately say grind?) that, once in a great while, proves mildly inspirational.

And so, I immerse myself in her official bio and note the high points: winner of 2003’s American Music Award for Best Unsigned Artist; hailed by the influential College Music Journal as “a younger, lustier Sheryl Crow”; played Woodstock ‘99, as well as some of the most prestigious showcase rooms in America, such as L.A.’s El Rey Theatre, and NYC’s Bowery Ballroom; seen several original tunes used on a variety of MTV reality shows and Dawson’s Creek DVDs.

She’s sent me two different indie CDs – The Tulip Tree, a lavishly-produced and modern rock-oriented release from 2001 that put her on the map and got her all the way to the AMAs, and Love Letters Lost, an equally slick and impressive collection of ballads that Loughran birthed in the aftermath of what she writes was “a horrible, sad and shitty breakup.”

A “somewhat depressing disc” is how she sums up this record in her note to me, and that’s a pretty spot-on assessment of the subject matter and overwhelming tone. However, that pithy and blithe description noticeably omits one inarguable fact: While the music and lyrics contained on Love letters Lost sure add up to one hell of a downer, the performances themselves are almost scarily in control of themselves.

Loughran sounds as self-assured about her heartbreak as I could imagine someone being, and while her sadness is certainly palpable, it’s quite a feat to turn that sort of misery into work this accessible – and noticeably devoid of either mawkish self-pity or bitter recriminations.

The fact that I’m not usually much for her style of vaguely rootsy contemporary pop made my clearly positive reaction to the CD even more of a strange surprise.

This solo show lacks the musical embellishments featured prominently on her discs and afforded by a road band. yet, I’d imagine this material may actually be improved by such an intimate setup.

In closing her letter, Loughran gives her upcoming Savannah date what might charitably be called the soft sell. “I can say that... it doesn’t suck,” she writes.

I’ll just add that’s seems an incredible understatement and leave it at that. Fri., 8 pm, The Sentient Bean.

The Mercy Seat, Redshirt Freshman, The Beauvilles

The last time The Mercy Seat played this venue, this Florida group (with a growing U.K. cult following) was part of a triple bill of bands playing music a bit out of the norm for this punk, metal and alt.country room. Now they’re back, headlining another trio of unique indie-rockers.

Formerly known as Shotgun Wedding, they craft evocative rock noir which uses the dour and mysterious soundscapes of Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and PJ Harvey as their starting point.

Redshirt Freshman, on the other hand, take their cues from the first few, stripped-down LPs by Elvis Costello & The Attractions and any number of edgy, snarling early-’80s college rock groups (think the Big Time label).

Tampa’s Beauvilles are harder to pigeonhole, adding bop jazz and soul influences. The power trio likens themselves to the glory days of The Who, and The Stones, but that’s a tall order for anyone. Then again, their website is just a link to eBay, so go figure. Fri., The Jinx.

Vis Vires

I’m digging these guys in a big way. With a frontman who looks like a cross between Robin Zander, Tom Petty and Marilyn Manson’s kid brother, and a sound that some folks describe as “Viking Rock,” this up-and-coming four-piece is a throwback to a time when a band’s look didn’t necessarily have anything to do with what they sounded like.

Rock music is in a sad state, says the group, “when uncreative, oversimplified bands are putting on the only exciting live shows.” I don’t know if that’s true, but if it was, I’d have to agree.

The group brags that two of their members were schooled at the Atlanta Institute of Music, and that their drummer “can hold a solid beat even after a case or two of beer.” Nothing to sneeze at.

Vis Vires play frenetic, speed-crazed metal that owes allegiance to old-school practitioners like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, without lapsing into parody or imitation, and vocalist Alexi Aleister can flat out tote the mail. Sat., The Jinx.

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Jim Reed

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