Havilah Rand and The Ames: March 31st at Redlight

Havilah Rand, briefly returned from Texas via Thailand, stands in the red-toned atmosphere of the Redlight surrounded by a standing room only crowd. The first song opens with Blake Angelos’ plaintive piano. Then Havilah’s smoky honeyed voice is there like an old friend, comforting and beautiful. Behind her, her longtime accompanist on guitar, Phil Sottile seems to spin evocative threads of musical meaning out of the tapestry of time. She tells us that most of these songs are new, composed on her travels, but like all good music, they have a quality of always having been a part of her sets. They sound right and true, centered and connected. With the song, “The Rest of Your Life,” there seems to be more sensuality to her voice, a depth of experience that I haven’t heard before. Her guitar playing, overlooked at times because of the strength of her voice, is exceptional.
She follows with the songs, “Peil” and one called either “Six Petals” or “Lies.” Both are extraordinary and fresh, performed with easy talent. After the forth song, there is a sort of new vulnerability, an openness, something unidentifiable in her singing, some artifact of travel, of being unhoused, extraterritorial. It creates a strangeness in the music that instantly locks the listener in, that resonates with authenticity and lived experience. “Bengalese Butterflies” sounds perfect – especially Phil and Blake shining in between Havilah’s singing. On “Spider,” Phil’s playing is particularly haunting and evocative.
Setting down her guitar for the last song, she simply stands there and sings. With talent. With grace. Smiling. Her voice full of freedom.
Next up are The Ames, a three-piece with Michael Lanz on drums, Dan Swan on bass and Sam Carlton holding down principal vocals, piano, banjo, harmonica and kazoo. They start off with a song called “Scratch the Night:” a percussive piano driven piece with drums and bass underneath. Sam Carlton’s voice moves easily around early Tom Waits, Britt Daniels from Spoon and aspects of Jeff Tweedy. But it is unique and interesting, dynamic unto itself, engaging. Everyone seems to get on the same pony with the song, “So Many Ways I Can Make Your Skin Bleed.” After that, no one in the crowd was going to leave until the band stopped playing.
“Rusty LaRue” demonstrated a fine sense of narrative songwriting and you had to imagine Fred Snodgrass smiling. Then Sam shifted from piano to banjo, picking the strings with a unique skill that made it sound as if a guitar was playing underneath the voice of the banjo, making the instrument do things it doesn’t normally do. Aspects of Bela Fleck. Nice.
The second half of the set was marked by a sort of gypsy style klezmer kazoo song, waking up the midnight crowd. Then the song, “Fish Out of Water.” A lamp in the window behind the drums and beautiful beautiful playing in silhouette. A lonely song aching with nostalgia. And as with all good music, you didn’t want any of it to ever end.