Hoots and hollers: New groups get big howdy

Los Cranios and Karma Bums
Rapunzel's Coffee & Books
Saturday, July 5

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Rapunzel's Coffee & Books in Lovingston is one of my favorite venues in the area. A renovated packing shed, the place bleeds simplicity, and thanks to a great sound setup, every show I've seen there (generally roots and acoustic music) has been more than simply enjoyable.

The July 5 show at the club featured two acts I've never seen before: Los Cranios and Lovingston favorites and frequent Rapunzel's performers, the Karma Bums. The band setups at Rapunzel's are almost always lickety split-­ usually the performers just take their acoustic instruments on-stage, gather around the one mic set up the club spots, and the fun begins.

The three gentlemen who make up Los Cranios did just that and soon enough showed the audience their wares. Their hour-long set began with all three performers playing guitar-­ two instruments playing chords and one picking lead.

"Down in a one-horse town," the gentleman on center guitar crooned, his voice fixed somewhere between a normal country presentation and yodeling. The next tune by the group reminded me a fair amount of Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night (In the Pines)," with its 3/4 timing and rather somber chord progressions. Los Cranios played well for their entire set, and the audience showed their appreciation via hoots and hollers at the end of most songs.

The Karma Bums were up next, and from the energy I felt from the audience, I suspected I was in for something good. The Karma Bums– Joe Madison, Alda Curtis, Jim McAvoy, and Kevin Crowe– play acoustic music, full of exquisite space and wittier-than-thou lyrics.

To start things off, the group did a sort of chanting, percussion-filled slow walk to the stage from different points behind the audience. The chant, "Coming down on my feet" morphed into the group's first song once they had picked up their instruments (two guitars, bass, and drums). Then "Coming down on my feet" became the chorus of the song.

The group's bass player (although he did switch to guitar for some tunes) took the lead for this one, and the group's other two guitarists backed him up with a mixture of singing and shouting vocals. The song reminded me a little of mid-'70s solo Paul Simon, with the singer's rich voice only sealing the comparison in my mind.

The lead guitarist took vocal duties on the next tune, another "World Consciousness"-type tune which featured the phrase "One World" prominently in the chorus– most of the songs this gentleman sang were probably the loosest ones of the evening. In comparison, the tunes on which the second guitarist sang (all three gentlemen in the group sing) were generally more introspective, tight, and seemed to rotate tightly around the same notes. Pure '60s they seemed, at least to my young ears.

However, not every fan will warm to the sound. Music aficionado Emmett Boaz notes, "The 'later Paul Simon' description suggests 'sensitive' writing, and Lovingston is a bit far afield for me."

So far, Rapunzel's has not done me wrong, and Los Cranios and the Karma Bums only continued the streak.