In performance: Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub

paul burch

Paul Burch

Early into the nearly two-hour roots rock joyride Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub engaged in Saturday night at Willie’s Locally Known was a savory tune called Honey Blue.

It grew out of a blast of fuzzy guitar, a syncopated beat that resembled a mild rhumba (the trio repeatedly returned to such a percussive device throughout the evening) and a crisp, authoritative vocal from Nashvillian Burch that was steeped in the concise, emotive delivery of vintage pop. As if this change-up were not enough to showcase the efficient drive that the show favored, Honey Blue then morphed into a brief snippet of the blues/soul staple Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.

The medley summed up everything you needed to know about Burch’s stylistic sensibilities by offering a slice of original, pop-fortified roots rock alongside an example of the tradition-minded song construction that inspired it.

In short, it was Burch’s way of saying, ‘Go ahead. Pay attention to the man behind the curtain.’

The model for this kind of musical time-tripping was obviously Nick Lowe. Burch’s original tunes possessed the kind of expert songcraft and split infatuation with roots rock and pop that made Lowe’s early records so distinctive. It could be heard last night in the subtle melodic swing of Little Bells, the retro country propulsion of the show-opening Like a Train and the elegant pop sweep of Waiting for My Ship (all three tunes, along with the earlier Honey Blue, came from Burch’s splendid 2009 album, Still Your Man).

Even Burch’s vocals recalled Lowe’s clean, collected singing, as evidenced by Ballad of Henry & Jimmy and the more vintage country rumble Jackson, Tn.

Beyond that, the show was as casually paced as it was tireless. Burch must have bade the audience good night a half-dozen times before launching into another song. It took Saturday Night Jamboree and Tryin’ to Get to You to finally shut the trio down. Even then, Burch – who was decked out in suit, tie and vest – looked as if he had just hit the stage instead of having ripped through the rock of ages for a couple of hours. Score one for the power of positive pop.

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