Tuesday, September 07, 2004

REV: Scott Rotge & Myles Smith

Performance Review, Scott Rotge & Myles Smith, The Inn Pub, 6 September 2004

From Melancholy to Melismatic
tony gallucci

Once in a while a smallish country community produces the likes of a decent performer; stage, music or some such. It's no secret that as quiet as central Kerr County appears to the outside world, more than its proper share of talent has gone forth to tell the world that the hills are a goldmine of talent. Two young local songwriters are next in that line if their acoustic performance at the Pub at the Inn of the Hills Monday is any indication.

Tivy High graduate Scott Rotge and Ingram Tom Moore grad Myles Smith held court at the Pub's weekly singer/songwriter night - just the two of them on their Alvarez and Fender acoustics -- and put on a relaxed night of original pieces ranging from the melancholic to the downright inspired silly.

Rotge is the more travelled performer, with a full-blown electric band and a widely-touted, well-produced CD. Smith has emerged in the last year and half, mostly on the local bar scene, but also with gigs as far afield as San Antonio.

Rotge tells that he attended Smith's first public gig at the River Road Ice House, and from there was born something of a mutual admiration society. Smith has opened for Rotge's band, but Monday marked the first time they have shared a stage as equals, swapping mostly originals for three hours.

Let's get the complaints out of the way: the pub was mostly empty (though those there were most appreciative) - these guys will someday have a big audience, now may be the time to hear them before rowdy college crowds find them; the two need to sing together more often - there were occasional backups of each other's choruses, especially on the few covers, but they complement each other so well, that it's a shame to not hear more of them together (even if this was a new combination gig); and finally, well, the beer drove them into the sillier things late, but also took away some of their ability to hit the right notes: old entertainment maxim - a few make a frog a bird, one more makes a bird a frog.

The two are both high tenors with similar timbre to their voices. While the melismatic Rotge knows how to stretch an emotional moment with his whiskey smooth croon, Smith's smoky edge is perfect counterpoint.

Their original tunes match their personalities and their vocal chords. Rotge pens love songs born of watching girlfriends head off for college, losses of family, and the universal theme of waking up alone. Smith has seen way too much of life for his youth, or else has an unerring eye for the irony of love and loss; I think probably both.

Rotge played a number of songs written for his planned second CD. Although his first CD originals sounded even better acoustic than they do to my ear with a band (although my taste runs to listening rather than dancing, his quite tight band sure make the songs danceable), his newer pieces have a ring of newfound songwriting maturity and vary more than the earlier songs, edging towards blues and acoustic folk (aka the Americana cliche, which really has no real definition or use), and even including a minor-keyed gem “Cold Rain” which he says will be on the new CD.

In any case, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and depth of the new songs, especially the aforementioned “Cold Rain,” “Old Man,” “Believe” and “Outside”.

Besides my wishing for more duets, Rotge might add another flavor to his fine originals with a tasteful acoustic lead, and some light acoustic percussion, congas perhaps. Just my ear.

Both Rotge and Smith have, perhaps intuitively, mastered some of the most difficult skills for young writers to come by - storytelling, phrasing and unique melody. Rotge especially has a handle on melody, and that's appropos to his mellow, soaring voice.

While Rotge's stories are more structure-oriented and focused on heartbreak or pure love without resort to specifics, Smith has the ballad down cold and enlivens his stories with the touch of personal experience. And Smith has near-perfect phrasing and knows when to stretch the limit of the measures he has to play with.

Smith's originals, such as “Over You” tend towards the melancholy, with pictures painted from nights in darkened rooms, evenings on the river, and days on the road. Take “It Ain't Easy Bein' Me” with the songwriter's envy line “Ought to be a town somewhere named for how I feel.” [Myles has informed me tonight that this is a Chris Knight song not one of his -- sorry for the error -- December 17, 2004]

When he strays from the straight smoky ballad (perfectly apt for his voice and style) he goes straight to humor.

“As a songwriter you want to write something that will touch someone . . . then you end up getting drunk . . .” Smith said. From there he wandered into “The Bubblegum Song”. In this song, a sweet-without-being-sappy story of love gone turns a big corner in the final verse. It's the kind of denouement that excites large crowds of drunken college boys, and makes its point quite . . . well, you'll have to hear it. Some might say the song was written to set up that final verse for laughs and guffaws. I don't know how the song was written, only that without the last verse, it's a darn perfect love song. I have to wonder if that last verse wasn't a drunken afterthought. Regardless, there is something deeply personal, personal in the loss, in the song long before it turns ribald.

Between the two they covered Robert Earl Keen several times (“Dreadful Selfish Crime,” “I'm Coming Home,” “Corpus Christi Bay”), Smith added a little Brandon Rhyder, Rotge nailed a version of Johnny Cash's “Folsom Prison Blues,” and Smith put a whole new voice on Steve Miller's “The Joker”. My favorites in the someone-else's-songs department were Smith doing Ryan Adams' “Come Pick Me Up” and Rotge's silky version of Randy Rogers' “Lost & Found.” All in all, they showed excellent taste in covers, all complements to their own originals.

No dates are set for another go, but keep your eyes and ears open for another evening of this combo of fine young writers at some local venue. They'll be worth your time, and the day may come when tickets will be hard to come by.

Scott Rotge at a 2003 performance at Chili's on the River, Kerrville

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Wednesday, September 01, 2004

REV: The Diviners

Synopsis, The Diviners, Directed by Ryan Bailey
The Smith-Ritch Point Theatre, Ingram, Texas, September 2004

Quietly Lusting for Water and Salvation
tony gallucci

In a tiny Indiana town named Zion, mired in the depression, that which gives life takes it away. Buddy Layman is the town idiot, but a charming one. What's left of Buddy after his mother saved him from drowning is an innocent but boundlessly curious mind, and a compelling gift for sensing water coupled with an intense fear of it. The rest of the town meanders through the mundane chores of getting by day to day - conversations about bicycle tires take half a day, you can't eat at the cafe until you've said your prayers, and youngsters learn to dance at the otherworldly hands of those who've seen the world via US Army boot camp. And of course, they bemoan what they lack - rain for crops, enough future brides and grooms for all, and a preacher for their weekly salvation. So when the slipping preacher C.C. Showers, looking for a way out of his salvation, stumbles into town looking for an anonymous job, the locals immediately pin on him the badge of savior. What comes next turns everything upside down, as C.C. makes a connection with idiot boy Buddy in a way no one else has and finds more in his heart than family would have you believe is there. Seeking to cure his constant itch, and its reminder of the fate of Buddy's mother, C.C. rids Buddy of his hydrophobia. In this rarely-performed allegorical play, that which gives life takes it away in the same astounding final instant and leaves us pondering the worth of salvation of any stripe. This unforgettable play, directed by Ryan Bailey, features Taylor Danielson in his first lead role as Buddy Layman and Leaman Valentine as the backslider C.C. Showers, and a cast of a dozen Point veterans and newcomers as the people of Zion, Indiana. September 3-18 at the Smith-Ritch Point Theatre, Hill Country Arts Foundation, Texas Highway 39 just west of Ingram, Texas.

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