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Some nights the internal debate rages on of whether to go out or stay home. There were plenty of reasons to stay in and not go to the Luke Winslow-King Trio show at Mexicains Sans Frontieres on Friday, September 21st. It was cold, it was raining, Artprize was in full swing and there wouldn’t be any parking. S=ome things are worth putting a little effort in to see and Luke Winslow-King’s blend of traditional delta-folk music and innovative slide guitar qualifies.
Winslow-King, who hails from Cadillac, Michigan has spent the last decade living in New Orleans, quite possibly the only place one could learn and craft the mix of jazz, blues, ragtime and folk ballads that is Winslow-King’s sound, a sound that could best be described as “sepia-toned.” Being steeped in the New Orleans music culture may be the thing that lends an authenticity to Winslow-King’s sound rather than a purely retro homage. It’s in the perfectly worn tone of the guitar and meticulous craftsmanship of the songs that one can hear Winslow-King is more apprentice than simply an imitator.
Accompanied by Esther Rose on washboard and heart- warming harmony vocals and the understated and melodic lines of bassist Cassidy Holden, Winslow-King treated the audience to two and half hours of what one could call comfort music. It was immediate from the opener “Let ‘Em Talk” why this music is timeless. With a road tested tightness that can only be honed by playing hundreds of shows, the band rolled through such songs as “Moving On (Toward Better Days)” and the apocalyptic cautionary hymn title track from their latest album “The Coming Tide.” A highlight was the murder ballad “Ella Speed” where the band exercised a perfect restraint to establish a mood and dynamic of sinister dread. Murder ballads are difficult to pull off, especially lyrically, but Winslow-King sold it and the result was a moment of truly spectral beauty and creep-out. The only thing missing was a well-timed lightning flash at key lyrical moments.
Much like his contemporary M. Ward, Winslow-King is no hack on the guitar. The seamless blend of fretwork and slide guitar is masterful with the restraint and stateliness that Winslow-King displays, never giving way to volume for volume’s sake.
The first set was rather cozy, more blanket and rocking chair in front of a warm fire than wild and raucous rock show. And then like all authentic and spontaneous events, a happy accident occurred. The band took a short break after the first set and in walks a man only known as "Jimmy the Weeper." This daddy-long-legs of a man, dressed in a hot pink blazer and white pants and sporting an Abraham Lincoln beard proceeded to blow apart everyone’s brains with a wild and skronking other-worldly clarinet that played like a page out of “On The Road.” “Blow man, Blow!” indeed.
"Jimmy's" presence changed the tone of the show entirely. Within the space of a few minutes we were all reminded that we are alive and that our moods can be only be dampened on cold, drizzly nights to the extent that we let them. The lights were turned low, the dance floor filled up and the audience provided extra rhythm with shakers, tambourines and handclaps. The space was transformed into a speakeasy as the band rolled on. After the fever-dream “Shake Your Money Maker,” it felt like the end to the night, but Winslow-King, knowing how to close a show, ended with a quiet lullaby version of the old folk ballad, the Grateful Dead used to close many of their shows with – “We Bid You Good Night.” Wrapped in the blanket of harmonies from Esther Rose, the song was the perfect comedown to a show that Winslow-King described as “being really, really good to being great.”
Steven Davison was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Mi. He holds degrees in English, Environmental Studies and Geography.