The most enjoyable tapings of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour revolve around featured performers that are distinct to the point of being stylistic opposites. The magic then comes when a level of common ground is discovered – or, in some cases, simply stumbled upon – that is a surprise to the artists as much as their audience.
Such was the case last night when blues guitarist Joe Louis Walker, who performed with gospel fervency within a highly electric quartet, and Americana songstress Aoife O’Donovan, whose solo acoustic set possessed a delicate but almost incantatory urgency, shared the WoodSongs bill at the Lyric Theatre.
Walker, a recent inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame, obviously reveres the great Buddy Guy. While little of the elder stylist’s monstrous tone was appropriated, Walker promoted a cheery, rockish accessibility within songs like Too Drunk to Drive Drunk (which was performed twice, with the second version unleashing the evening’s most assertive guitarwork) and Ride All Night.
But it was during Soldier for Jesus that Walker’s vocal drive, a singing style drenched in the kind of gospel/R&B bravado that has long been integral to Guy’s music, was placed front and center.
O’Donovan, whose debut solo album, Fossils, is still three weeks away from release, is poised to be the next celeb performer in Americana music following tours this summer with Garrison Keillor and Yo-Yo Ma’s all-star Goat Rodeo Sessions. You could detect a different recent why in each of the five fine Fossils songs she performed.
Red & White & Blue & Gold reflected subtle folk melancholy, Fire Engine emphasized the hushed urgency of her singing, Beekeeper mixed New England coffeehouse folk intimacy with ‘70s-era West Coast folk expression and Lay My Burden Down proved an exquisite showpiece for captivatingly quiet vocals that navigated tricky melodic turns with schooled cool.
But the show stealer was Oh, Mama – Fossils’ finale tune – which bloomed into a very impromptu Band-like jamboree. Keyboardist Eric Finland (from Walker’s band) supplied a solo full of churchy calm before Walker chimed in with leisurely slide guitar that fell right in line with the folk-roots groove that sat at the heart of O’Donovan’s charming song.