There is a lot to recommend singer/songwriter Zach Blew: He plays guitar with a nimble, jazzy fluidity; he sings with the sultry ease of John Mayer (back when Mayer was earnestly "Waiting for the World to Change"). Blew also has the wherewithal to back himself with a stellar band — guitarist Tom Leiner (Kellin Watson's road band), bassist Mike Shannon (The Electric Ghost Collective) and drummer Peter Councell (Yesterday's Tomorrow) — and to align himself with a venue like White Horse Black Mountain's recently-opened listening room.
Blew's CD-release show, a full-out fete celebrating Tonight In This Motel, turned out a packed room and plenty of guest musicians (Blew's dad on guitar, his brother on vocals, and local songstress Kellin Watson dueting on a number of songs). The party was enhanced by a string of covers, from a not-so-dirty version of John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom," to Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of My Tears.' (The oddest choice was the night's final song: a rendition of Soft Cell's ‘80s hit "Tainted Love.") These numbers drew in the audience, but they also attested to Blew's green-ness as a performer. He doesn't yet have enough material to flesh out a three-hour show and his band, although at the top of its game, was a group of hired guns who'd learned the nine-song album and were winging the rest of the performance.
Online retailer CD Baby describes Blew as "Patty Griffin and Amos Lee's love child sprayed with Windex, for a streak-free clean." It's an odd and yet apt tagline. There is Lee's easy voice and limber guitar, Griffin's folky lean and a rosy-cheeked nice guy-ness pervading every note.
Motel's title track possesses an Americana thump, and Blew's trademark dusky vocals — it's pleasantly bluesy without ever treading into gritty or swampy territory. "White Man Moon" (which the performer assured his audience is just another name for the man in the moon) is sweetly wistful and reminiscent of David Gray. The bubbling folk-rock song "Water Fountain," according to Blew, was inspired by a slave spiritual. He dedicated it to Montreat College, his alma mater.
Blew maintained an easy banter with the audience: "I think I'm really cool because I play songs in weird tunings, but it just takes too long," he said while obsessively twisting knobs on his guitar. And: "Just let me share my little sad, sorry song. Sometimes the sad, sorry songs are the best ones." This last comment was before a number about a broken heart, though lovelorn is a poor fit for Blew. The college girls in the crowd seemed, by their rapt attention, ready to bite, but give the musician a year of hard touring and it's likely he'll come back with fodder for richer, more authentic songs
Blew is definitely off to a good start.
Learn more about Zach Blew at www.zachblew.com.