100 Shows of 2010 - #45: Bryan Elijah Smith & The Wild Hearts @ Fireflies, 7/24/10

I’ve got some pretty talented friends, it must be said. I don’t often cover them, for fear of my natural predisposition to automatically love what they’re doing slanting my writing. But every now and again I feel the need to make an exception, like when my friend Jeff told me he would be playing up here in my neck of the woods. So to Alexandria went I, and I tell you what, dearlings. Friends or no, Bryan Elijah Smith & The Wild Hearts (i.e. the aforementioned Jeff Miller slaying the banjo and also including the unfortunately absent fiddle prowess of Jay Austin) pretty much made my weekend.

MINI RECAP: Bryan Elijah Smith & The Wild Hearts = Better Then The Average Bear! Overall score: A.

Bryan and Jeff sat themselves on the stage and proceeded to play over two hours’ worth of a mix of wonderful original material and wonderful cover songs. Let’s face it, any song that starts off with a cover of “Folsom Prison Blues” is gonna be a good one. The two of them made one heck of a pair; Bryan with his acoustic guitar and harmonica, and Jeff with his banjo. It was a simple, classic sound they made, stripped down and pure. And Bryan’s voice, well, that’s something else altogether. You know me, I’m sometimes easily impressed, but this boy has one hell of a voice on him. It’s breathy and rich, a little reminiscent of Ryan Adams and those sensational Love Is Hell EPs, along with shades of the great Joseph Arthur, but with the honesty and purity of the mountains coursing through it. Very salt of the earth, you might say. The timbre of his voice backed by the genuine simplicity of the acoustic and Jeff’s banjo was nothing short of beautiful.

Among the set were excellent covers of Creedence’s “Fortunate Son”, more Cash (“Ring of Fire”), a jaw-dropping rendition of “Wonderwall” that rivaled the Oasis original, and “Blowin’ In the Wind”, to name but a few. And I’ll just go ahead and blaspheme, but this version of “Wonderwall” eclipsed the Ryan Adams cover, in my humble opinion. Each song, cover or no, was given special care, and was played with attention to detail. Towards the end of their set, the boys took requests from the persons in attendance, and my request for the Rolling Stones was kindly granted by covers of “Wild Horses” (gorgeous) and “Dead Flowers”, which sounded a wee bit like that amazing Townes Van Zandt cover.

When it was all over, and Bryan and Jeff packed up and headed off into the night, I was left feeling totally impressed, and rather proud. Hearing a voice like Bryan’s is rare indeed, and I can’t encourage you enough to go see the guys if you happen to get the chance. Fellow Virginians, the trio has dates all over scheduled for this summer, so make sure you don’t miss ‘em.

mp3: Other Side Of Town (Bryan Elijah Smith from Forever On My Mind)


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