Artists like Peter Karp and Sue Foley shout out loud and clear that the English language is totally inadequate to describe music in the 21st century. We’re out of meaningful adjectives, out of categories and labels to assign, out of any way to describe music in less than 100 words. Some argue that categories are reductive and limiting, but dammit, if I’m going to try to convince you to listen to new music, I want something better than the worn out words “Americana” or “rootsy” to describe something that doesn’t fit neatly into any one category.
Don’t get me wrong; I love genre bending, and Karp and Foley together offer a masterful example. We simply don’t have the vocabulary to describe them – not without making up new words or adding –esque or –y or –ish to the ends of nouns: Dylan-esque, roots-y, blues-y, country-ish. Clearly, Gracenote’s database has these same limitations, as it identifies the album as “Country & Folk.” Though there are clearly influences from each of these genres, this music couldn’t be called either country or folk any more than a ski slope could be called a Slurpee.
Fans of Foley’s more traditional electric blues were probably disappointed with the show and the entire “He Said, She Said” album, which provided the bulk of the set list. Aside from Foley’s solos, there were few moments in the show when the blues shone through clearly to stand on its own. Though Karp’s guitar work has firm roots in the blues, his other roots influences were so prominent that he quickly headed into what would be (almost non-descriptively called) roots-rock guitar playing, with a little bit of everything thrown in.
More typical of the night was a song like “Hold On Baby,” which started with a guitar sound reminiscent of 1930s style Piedmont blues, but added a country-ish freight train drumbeat and a melody with more of an early rock sound. A similar mix came back on “Dear Girl,” which, thanks to the lead guitar work, came off as more country-ish than anything else, just without the cry of a steel guitar or a good yodel in Karp’s voice on the lead vocal. Foley ripped through her solo on this song like any good gunslinger of a player.
Throughout the night, the two explored the entire roots rock map, with Karp’s personality and Steve Earle-esque vocals dominating most of the performance, while Foley took more of a sidewoman role, contributing harmony vocals and lead guitar to most songs, though she did sing lead on a few songs. Her trademark paisley Telecaster was replaced for the night with a custom model that gave her a creamier, thicker, smoother tone than her trademark sound. Karp’s guitar tone tended to be a little more brash, so her warmer tone worked as a better compliment than her old Telecaster would have. Similarly, her sometimes-sweet, sometimes-sexy vocals contrasted with Karp’s gruff voice in a way that made each of them sound better than they did on their own.
Michael Louis opened the show, performing acoustic blues on a cheap Gretsch Americana series guitar, perhaps following in the great old blues tradition of taking a junk guitar and finding a way to make it sound cool. Backed by the capable bass of Bacco Bergquist, the two ran through a collection of Louis’ original blues, mostly from his “South New York” album. The original recordings are all heavy, guitar-driven blues, but he translated them well to the acoustic format, mostly keeping the same upbeat tempos and belting out the lyrics a little harder to maintain the same energy. Louis has become a semi-regular addition to the Capital Region blues scene, and while he’s stronger with his regular band, his acoustic performances show a nuanced side that’s a welcome alternative.
Review by Eric Gleason
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Michael Louis photograph by Eric Gleason