LIVE: Bryan Thomas, Julia Brown @ the Bread & Jam Cafe, 3/19/10
How long has it been? More than a year? Yeah, one of Nippertown’s very finest singer-songwriters hasn’t stepped into the spotlight in waaaay too long. It’s not that he’s stage-shy, that’s for sure, because Bryan Thomas grabs the audience’s attention as soon as he straps on his guitar. But back from his 13-month hiatus, Thomas launched into his show at the Bread & Jam Cafe in Cohoes on Friday night, and almost immediately began apologizing. “I told Julia that I should have been opening for her,” he said. Then he whipped through 10 stunning tunes in 50 minutes – proving to everyone within earshot why he shouldn’t really be opening for anybody. His folk/funk, Prince/Joni Mitchell-lovechild hybrid sound is as pointed as it ever was, and he wisely keyed in on his latest album, “One Three Six Nine Lights,” for some of his best performances of the night, including the jazz-flecked “Sticky” – based on a riff and lyric sung to him by his then-four-year-old daughter Zoe – in which he channeled Lady MacBeth and soared into a solid but feathery falsetto. He dug into the deepest corners of his catalog for “Tiresias” from 1999’s “Radio Plastic Jennifer” and made pit-stops along the way at 2002’s “Ones and Zeros” (with “Perfect” and the show-closing “Jennifer”) and 2004’s “Babylon” (the somewhat reluctant, but undeniably well-deserved encore of “Breathe”). If you don’t know what I’m talking about – or don’t know about Bryan Thomas – go here immediately, where he’s giving away – that’s right, giving away – mp3s of “One Three Six Nine Lights” for free. The whole glorious album. And, Mr. Thomas, please don’t make us wait another year… New York City singer-songwriter Julia Brown was every bit as good as I hoped she’d be, and that’s really saying something after listening to her dazzling sophomore album, “Strange Scars.” But the album is a well-produced (by Anton Fier, no less) piece of work recorded with a crack batch of NYC musicians (including Cyndi Lauper guitarist Knox Chandler, who was a Nippertown music scene regular back in the day with the Gary Windo Orchestra), and that doesn’t always translate well into a solo acoustic performance. No problem for Ms. Brown… Her nine-song, 45-minute set was a wonder to behold, as she shifted gears effortlessly from the fragile “Willow Song” to the driving, rockish “Pieces of the Species” to the folksy fingerpicking of the yearning “Miles Away.” Her music is brimming over with masterful use of dynamics and delightfully unexpected mood changes, as during the intense “Unburden,” which started out light and airy before segueing into darkness and dissonance and then back again into the light. In the midst of her intimate and emotional performance, she stepped back to deliver a most unexpected cover – Crowded House’s “Four Seasons in One Day.” And she made that, too, a profoundly personal statement. In short, this was a magnificent double-bill – two singer-songwriters carving out their own paths. Smart, passionate, honest and irony-free. Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk You can also find some additional photos and videos of Thomas and Brown from the show right here.