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  • Rich Kassirer

Concert Reviews: Eilen Jewell at Johnny D’s, Sarah Harmer at the Paradise, 11/6/10

Sarah Harmer at the Paradise.
Sarah Harmer at the Paradise.

Ever have one of those nights where plans seem to just magically work, no matter what they are? Last Saturday, as much as a month ago, was tagged as a “tough call night” as to which show we would attend: Eilen Jewell at Johnny D’s, Sarah Harmer at the Paradise, Dawes at Royale… and there were more. But since a good friend was leaving for Nashville, country seemed like the right choice, so Eilen got the nod. After diligently checking the schedule, we learned she was playing an early show… and if we could somehow make it from Somerville to Comm. Ave in Boston, we might be able to catch Sarah Harmer as well.

Let’s just say this was not a sure thing. First, there’s parking… or lack thereof. In Somerville it’s either get ticketed for a meter space that runs until 8 (we were at the club at 5:30 to get our great spot for the show; FU, Somerville!) or try your luck in a city permitted space (maybe our car won’t be there when we get back; double FU!). Then if your car is intact (no ticket, no towing!), you have to make it cross town (through Harvard Square, without hitting pedestrians) and find, yes, another spot on Comm. Ave (BU hockey game just ending) close enough to the Paradise to make it for Sarah’s 10:30 set.

Let’s just say we were standing in front of the stage at 10:20, beer in hand, as her equipment was being set up.

OK, now for the shows!

Eilen and her band had just returned from a European tour and were genuinely delighted to be home. The show was originally billed as a tribute to Loretta Lynn, based on her most recent release called “Butcher Holler.” But it was clear from the start that they weren’t sticking to the program. Her set was loose and fun and filled with songs from all her albums. The crowd, a surprisingly older-aged (40s and 50s), were in a dancing mood, which is perfect for Eilen’s music. Her sound which ranges from straight-ahead country to early’60s-era rock fit the bill.

Some of the highlights included Lynn’s “Fist City” (a crowd favorite), some great country shuffles “High-Shelf Booze,” “Rich Man’s World,” and “Dusty Boxcar Wall” and some down and dirty rock tunes from her “Sea of Tears” album, like “Sweet Rose” and “I’m Gonna Dress in Black.”

Her band, of course, is top-notch, especially guitarist Jerry Miller, who is a monster. She finished the night with Miller going off on “Shakin’ All Over,” as he spent his 5-minute solo referencing songs from Creedence to the Beatles to the James Bond theme and more. It was dazzling. A quick encore break and they finished off by getting the crowd up and dancing on “Mess Around.”

Then after a little crosstown traffic (the real kind!), it was time for Sarah Harmer.

It was clear from her setup that Sarah was gearing the night to a more electric set. I loved “I’m a Mountain,” and less love her new album, “Oh Little Fire,” but this would be a good test of that material. Live, the new material sounds very close to fellow Ottawa native Kathleen Edwards, which is a good thing.

One thing that is clear no matter which songs she sings: Sarah has an amazing voice. She hits notes that skitter upward in scale with beauty and depth. That is, in fact, what separates her from Kathleen Edwards, who doesn’t have that range.

She played a lot of the tunes from the new album, including “Silverado,” “Careless,” and One Match,” which actually fit in well against some her older material including “Almost” and “Pendulums” (from the album “All of Our Names”) and “Basement Apartment” and “Lodestar” (from You Were Here”). She did one song, “The Ring,” played solo with her backup singer Julie Fader, from “I’m A Mountain.” From that and other tunes, it is clear that Sarah is pretty adept on guitar as well. She had a full band – drummer, guitarist, bassist – but allowed herself a little plucky solo on “One Match.”

The crowd, a little sparse, was enthusiastic and Sarah seemed genuinely happy for the support.

For more of my Sarah Harmer pics, click HERE (my Eilen pics sucked!)

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