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Front-row reviews

What: Mosby w/Wayne Robbins & The Hellsayers and Cary Fridley

Where: The Grey Eagle

When: Friday, May 23

I have this secret urge to see Cary Fridley cut loose, kick off her hand-quilted, homespun charm, and rock the pine-wood cabin of Appalachian folk down to its foundations. I realize it’s probably never going to happen, though: She’s too good at what she does.

Too bad.

Wayne Robbins & The Hellsayers can also be hard to figure. According to my notes from the recent Grey Eagle show, they sound like “an alt-country band playing a trip-rock ballad, [but] only if they were really playing an indie-rock song inspired by an old whaling dirge.”

Which is accurate — to a degree. But if you’ve ever heard The Hellsayers play, particularly an acoustic set like the May 23 show, you also realize how much is being left out.

Robbins’ lyrics, for instance, are deeply poetic and surprisingly surreal, filled with images of ships and seas, trips to Mars and swordfish knocking on doors to steal seashell collections. As Robbins sings, his voice becomes that of a dreamer — wispy and haunted. Countered by Brian Landrum‘s tight drumming and Jeff Whitworth‘s richly atmospheric Dobro, banjo and guitar, it was quite a set.

Last act Mosby was composed of folk singers Jen Hamel (late of Clandestine), Vickie Burick (Burick & Richards) and Emily Poe, with backing guitar provided by John Logh.

Hamel has the voice of a mountain-music-inspired Natalie Merchant, and it truly shines when backed by Poe and Burick in songs like “Tender Is the Night.” All three women took turns as lead vocalist, but it was Hamel who set the mood.

The set faltered, though, when Logh provided his Jack Sheldon-like vocals (think “Conjunction Junction” from Schoolhouse Rock).

Not that his campy blues and showboating guitar were devoid of charm — but the thoughtful, haunted feel that Mosby’s female vocalists had built simply evaporated in his wake.

Under the radar (demo reviews)

stephanie’s id, stephanie’s id

Silences are important. They add weight to a song, replacing endless notes with a simple and elegant construction. Silence evokes a mood, a reflective kind of whispering dignity that becomes shattered by that next thundering note. Each spark of sound becomes that much more important in such a musical darkness.

On the debut release from local piano-jazz duo stephanie’s id, silence is just as important as sound. Vocalist Stephanie Morgan and pianist Chuck Lichtenberger coax their songs out of a hazy penumbra of smoke-filled, martini-soaked rooms to create this dark, melodic thing.

In fact, only three of the demo’s six songs hint at a truly original sound — but greatness lurks in the corners.

“You see, it’s a dark moon that surrounds the place/ and it’s never too soon to stop the pace,” sings Morgan on “Dark Moon,” the album’s opening track, just before belting out the refrain — “But we’re only human/ huuuMMAAAAAAAn” — her voice raised to a brassy howl. The word “human,” moaned over and over, begins to lose its meaning.

The music is minimal, but takes on a kind of substance no fan of local jazz has much right to expect. And then, with Lichtenberger’s sparse notes dropping like deep-crimson splashes of blood on a white-tile floor, the song ends.

But for all the risks the duo takes on some tracks, they flinch on songs like “kiss her” and “ozone,” settling for flowery, twinkling openings and kitschy musical references.

Then again, the id can be a scary place to dwell.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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