Timeless tunes: Just one big good time

Lester Bowers and Shelton Sprouse
at Miller's
Friday, November 26

Summer would be my favorite time to be in Charlottesville, except I hate the heat. The streets are clear, the crowds dispersed, and the goblins come out of their little holes to feast on the creatures of the night. (See what you miss by not staying in town?) Over the summer and during each official school break, the students zip back to the towns that spawned them, leaving behind Solo cups, parking, and a few days reprieve for us locals.

Miller's, where I found myself Friday night, November 26, seemed to have the "students away, now we can play," mindset in operation– the place was quieter than I've ever seen it, and though the upstairs was a bit of a wasteland, down where the music rang, a full house sat chatting quietly. A trio– two-thirds of which was composed of guitarist/vocalist Lester Bowers and guitarist Shelton Sprouse– might have had something to do with the low-key atmosphere. They played quiet country/blues and straight blues, sans drums, that was extremely good to my battered eardums, in more ways than one.

Composed of acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and electric bass, the group was sitting down when I came in, rattling off a blues number I didn't recognize. The group's instrumentation was interesting– as Bowers sang, the acoustic guitarist strummed and picked barely audible notes on his git-box, relying mostly on the bass and winding lead lines from the electric guitarist to make the backdrop to his vocal wanderings.

Hank Williams' "Hey, Good Lookin' " was the first complete song I heard, and by this point I was pretty impressed. There was a sort of timeless quality about the three– trying to pick a time period or genre to fit them into did not work for me; they seemed to draw from 50 years of country and blues and make it all seem new.

The easy-going voice of the acoustic guitarist provided everything we could ask for– taut when it needed to be, lush when it didn't, and with a howling quality that fit the blues numbers admirably.

Most impressive was the lead guitarist, whose lines seemed to fill the little club, taking up the space left by the lack of percussion, and even stealing some from the bass. In between songs, the group took long breaks as they conversed on stage, but the crowd didn't seem to mind– it just added to the laid-back feeling of the night.

"Lyle Lovett's "Nobody Knows Me" was next, spatially the most open of songs, where bass formed the main background. Contemporary bluesman Taj Mahal's "Fishin' Blues" ended the straight blues and started off the country/blues part of the set, where things got a little more up-tempo and the music a little lighter– the song was, lyrically as well as musically, just one big good time.

Three guys and the blues