LIVE: Girls Guns & Glory / Sarah Borges @ Club Helsinki, 1/2/15


Review by Fred Rudofsky

They may be too country for the rock station playlist and too rock for the country stations, but there is no question that Boston’s Girls Guns & Glory is one of the best live quartets around, as the recent Friday night crowd at Club Helsinki would attest. Averaging 200 shows a year – three in the two days in their hometown prior to their Hudson gig – Girls Guns & Glory performed their annual tribute to Hank Williams with gusto and the presence of two special guests.

Decked out in a colorful tight dress and trademark cowboy boots, Club Helsinki favorite Sarah Borges opened the show with her customary warmth, wit (she even brought along a toy store sound effects box) and trove of great songs. Backed by GGG’s Chris Hersch (lead guitar), Paul Dilley (upright and electric bass) and Jason Kiggans (drums), she was full-tilt rocking on “Streetwise Man,” cracking Kentucky whiskey jokes prior to “The Same Old 45” and owning “Daniel Lee,” introduced as “a romantic little number” from her days fronting the Broken Singles. “Girl with a Bow” and “Big Bright Sun” from her excellent Radio Sweetheart album showed off the range of Borges the songwriter – the former was funky and confident in its characterization, the latter trippy and evocative of summer beach memories. The Bakersfield sound of “Heartbreaker” got couples out on the floor to two-step; the energy level jumped even higher when Borges sang and played her electric guitar with rhythmic swagger on the NRBQ classic “It Comes to Me Naturally.”

Ward Hayden, sporting a crisp white hat that Williams would have claimed as his own, and fiddle master Jason Anick next joined Borges for two beloved numbers from the Girls Guns & Glory canon, “Brown Bottle Blues” and “1000 Times.” Hayden and Borges wowed the audience with a high energy “Get as Gone can Get,” the A-side on their recent Lonesome Day Records 45. Peter Wolf would no doubt have given a thumbs-up to Borges’ impassioned cover of “Cry One More Time,” a torch-song that casual fans of the J. Geils Band ought to check out. An equally big fan of the band Daddy, Borges took Will Kimbrough’s “Glory Be” to a fever pitch – Hersch picked the Telecaster like a young Bill Kirchen – and left the house crying for more.

After a brief intermission to hydrate, Hayden was in great voice despite joking that the past week had been one of “so much drinking and not much sleeping.” Augmented by Anick’s impeccable fiddle, the band covered all the bases of one of the greatest songbooks around. “Honky Tonk Blues,” with some incisive “steel” effects by Hersch on a Telecaster, sounded like it was written for Hayden to sing, as was the plaintive “Ramblin’ Man,” perhaps the ultimate ode to wanderlust.

Ward took the time to offer some background on Williams, who learned to pick the blues on the porch as a boy in Georgia, prior to fine renditions of “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” and the supposed last song Williams ever recorded, “The Old Log Train.” He also showed off his yodeling prowess on “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” and gave all the guys in the band a chance to sing a verse on the quirky “Dear John.” Three Hank classics got kicked up a notch: “You Win Again” was smouldering with pinched notes by Hersch; “Jambalaya (on the Bayou)” got a Buck Owens-meets-Beausoleil treatment; and “Move It on Over,” a fine sing-along and dance number, showed off the fiddle chops of Anick.

Following a rocking “Moaning the Blues,” Borges joined the fun for the next three tunes, a spot-on duet of “Your Cheatin’ Heart”; a marvelous take on Sonny & Cher’s “Baby Don’t Go” (the B-side to the aforementioned 45); and a raise-the-roof-of-the-church take of “I Saw the Light.” Big applause ensued, so the band returned for an exuberant three-song encore. Hersch got the lead vocal nod on Del Reeves’ truckers anthem “Lookin’ at the World through a Windshield,” showing off a wicked tone throughout his solos and pushing the talented rhythm section of Dilley and Kiggans into frenetic hoedown mode. “Shake Like Jello,” one of the highlights of last year’s Good Luck, and the newly written “The Wild and the Free” rocked the audience and ensured that everybody left with a smile.

(Hanks Williams covers unless otherwise noted):
Honky Tonk Blues
Ramblin’ Man
My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It
The Old Log Train
Long Gone Lonesome Blues
Dear John
You Win Again
Jambalaya (on the Bayou)
Move It on Over
Moaning the Blues
Your Cheatin’ Heart
Baby Don’t Go (Sonny & Cher)
I Saw the Light
Lookin’ at the World through a Windshield (Del Reeves)
Shake Like Jello (Girls Guns & Glory original)
The Wild and the Free (Girls Guns & Glory original)

Streetwise Man
Same Old 45
Daniel Lee
Girl with a Bow
Big Bright Sun
It Comes to Me Naturally (NRBQ)
Brown Bottle Blues (Girls Guns & Glory)
1000 Times (Girls Guns & Glory)
Get as Gone Can Get
Cry One More Time (J. Geils Band)
Glory Be (Will Kimbrough)

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