Interested: Two keep audience enthralled

Tom Proutt with Billy Gessner
at Mountain View Grill, Crozet
October 18, 2003

I had never been to Crozet's Mountain View Grill until last Saturday night, but time will most likely see me coming back-­ the homey atmosphere, the pleasant locals, the dark recesses, which, if you're so inclined, enable copious amounts of extra-musical activities (I officially designate it one of Mark Grabowski's Top 5 Make-Out Spots of 2003)– all make for a memorable experience.

The sound setup there, though normally only accommodating more acoustically inclined musician types, is also quite good, and serves to further the worth of the place.

After the usual short setup time required for acoustic acts, Billy Gessner took the stage, playing a slightly smaller than normal acoustic guitar. Gessner's set consisted of fairly short country/folk numbers, all with lyrical hooks.

A song about the implications of the war against terrorism and nail files ("I used to clean my nails/I don't clean them no more"), and a tune singing the praises of the humble magazine ("I wouldn't cross the desert without my canteen/ I can't get through the day without a magazine"), caused the sudden recall of an early childhood memory of seeing Shel Silverstein perform his grotesque and fabulous original songs in a local park. Gessner's set got the audience interested, and kept them highly amused.

Tom Proutt, the night's big name, was up next, and the guitarist took the stage with Elle McCormick on backing vocals seated to his left. Though I've seen Tom Proutt play before, as the principal guitarist in roots/pop favorite the Jan Smith Band, this was my first exposure to a full live set of Proutt originals.

The first tune was a laid back country-folk number, seemingly about various stone animals guarding the gates of mansions (although it was probably some deep commentary on social injustice), but what really got me about the tune was the first entrance of McCormick. As she sang close harmonies behind Proutt's "Limestone crafted lions" chorus, the interplay of the two performers was when I really started to smile-­ they just sounded pretty damn unbelievable.

The next song, "Our One True Aficionado," track 3 on Proutt's recently released CD, Farm Jazz, is a slow waltz with a particularly vibrant rhyme reliance ("Unabashedly old fashioned / Refreshingly impassioned / He'd be breathing in the glory of the dawn").

After a few more numbers, Proutt announced he was going to play "one more pretty one and let it go," and he finished up his set with a few rather more edgy tunes-­ one about a taxidermist who married a "trophy wife," and who, discovering her with another man in his taxidermy freezer, shut the pair in– creating a literal trophy wife.

Though I had some exposure to Proutt via his recently released CD, I was not quite prepared for Saturday night's performance– great, great, and really great is all I have to say about it.

Tom Proutt with Elle McCormick