May 30, 2011

Live: Cotton Jones at Doug Fir

There's something almost religious about seeing Cotton Jones in concert—like going to church, but without any talk of god. The hymns are to the silver morning light, the flowers in the park, rolling hills and rushing rivers, hazy half dreams, and chiming bells. The songs are all personal moments and portraits—sipping tea, looking out the window—shared by the soulful and honey-voiced Michael Nau and his band of country folk from Cumberland, Maryland. The seven-piece group filled the stage at Doug Fir Lounge on Friday night with the standard folk-rock instrumentation of drums, bass, and electric guitar, plus a few more colorful treats like an amplified accordion, trombone, and tuba. Despite the band's size, the songs sounded as if they were being played in your own living room next to a quietly popping fireplace—warm and intimate at every turn. As always, Nau was aided by his husky-voiced singing partner and wife Whitney McGraw, who looks about six-months pregnant and as radiant as ever. The two have an incredible onstage rapport, never trading more than a look or nod during their vibrant duets and harmonies, and as an audience member, it often feels as if you've stumbled onto a couple's private, hushed conversations.

Under the Cotton Jones moniker, Nau's songs have become almost like meditations, repeating simple phrases such as "how wide goes your love," "gone the bells," and "let the river roll on" until they become velvety blankets of comfort awash with hope. The night's opening act, Portland's Parson Red Heads, came on stage tambourines in hand to help chorus the latter phrase—"let the river roll on" from "Somehow To Keep It Going"—and it was a sublime rendition with Nau wildly singing deep from his belly, heart-aching and face cringing. Staples like "Blood Red Sentimental Blues," "Glorylight and Christie," and "Gone The Bells" were sprinkled throughout the set and encore, but the night's other clear standout was the solo closing performance of "The Spinning Wheel." With acoustic guitar strapped over his shoulder, Nau stepped back from the mic, and as the crowed hushed, he let his voice bellow out naturally, the acoustics reverberating and taking shape off the walls and crevices of the venue. The song is off one of Nau's earliest releases as Cotton Jones, released under the Cotton Jones Basket Ride. Over a few strums and chords, Nau sings: "I was falling in love, or at least thought I was / All along, I've been lost in some velvet dream / I put all things where they belong / Indeed I was right, indeed I was wrong." It's a moving and cathartic track to end the night on, but perhaps what's more notable than the tone is the song's deliberately unhurried pace. Cotton Jones' music is free of the fast pace of city life and its accompanying snark, irony, and bitterness. Rather, this is refreshing medicine from the country—sincere, honest, and good for the soul.

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Cotton Jones - "Somehow To Keep It Going" (from Tall Hours In The Glowstream)
Cotton Jones - "The Spinning Wheel" (Live at the Third Floor in Fredericksburg, VA)

Cotton Jones - "The Spinning Wheel" (Live at the Third Floor in Fredericksburg, VA)

Cotton Jones with the Parson Red Heads - "Somehow To Keep It Going" via Into The Woods.

Cotton Jones

1 comment:

  1. Dead-on description of these magnificent musicians. Thanks for the tracks!