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Second Comings in the Music Sphere

Saturday evening, the 11th, provided several choices for second-time-around hearings, but there is just one of me so I went to Wussow’s for one I had been invited to quite a while beforehand. (Had to skip the Haley album release concert at Sacred Heart Music Center, of which I heard widely varying opinions.)

It was Matthew R. Sayles together with musician friends from here, Eau Claire, Wis., and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on the Wussow’s stage. Having heard Matt on several occasions with fellow artists like Misisipi Mike Wolf and with his Driftless Revelers band, not to mention on three of his CDs, I was intrigued that he was back in town with a mix of folks that seemed to promise he would reveal another side to his music.

In addition to a second helping of Matt, I got to hear Eau Claire-based Wyatt Thomson again. He opened for the Driftless Revelers at Earth Rider festival grounds this past summer on a chilly June 16 evening (reviewed in the June 22 Reader). Wow, he impressed me even more in the intimate venue that is Wussow’s. He has a very pleasant, not overly nice, tenor voice, singing several solos including both classics (“Long Black Veil,” “Unchain My Heart”) and wonderful original tunes (“OK By Me,” “Why Should I Worry?” and “Gasoline and Cigarettes”). Then he played his original “Home” on his Fender Telecaster for the first time; it was an eerie-sounding number with unexpected, unsentimental lyrics that included the refrain, “…I don’t wanna go home.” Duluth’s own Clancy Ward on fiddle and Sayles on acoustic guitar joined Thomson for several songs.  

Ray Little from the U.P. was next up on stage. Unlike the others, he was new to me. His songwriting is what he is best known for. His lyrics are quirky, but engaging – “McGregor,” “Days With My Dog,” “Philville” and “Maybe You Just Drank Too Much” which Sayles joined in on, playing a squeeze box. “You Can Do Both” explained that a man can still be macho and still “give a fuck.”

Later, Matt, the ringleader of this crew, soloed on several original songs before being joined by others. One of his I hadn’t heard before was written quite a while back when he was living on the West Coast: “Breathing Smoke” is about forcing convicts to put out California wildfires. It was a potent protest song that highlighted the predicament of these humans who put their lives on the line “…breathin’ smoke, diggin’ trench and haulin’ gear.” Sayles has a fine finger-pickin’ style along with a voice that does justice to these songs, beyond the funny “hokum” the Revelers produce.

Guitarist Ben Nelson, another of the members of the Driftless Revelers from Eau Claire, was the last to join in as the evening went on with some lead vocals of his own and a bit of rowdiness one expects from that group. It was rather a shame that more folks weren’t there to enjoy the variety of music by these talented guys.

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