“Houston this is my goodbye but it does not mean that we have to part,” sang Robert Ellis.
The 22-year-old songwriter is packing up for Nashville next month, he told the Americana crowd on Friday night.
Before Ellis and his five-piece band kicked off their set in the Cannery Ballroom, the San Francisco garage duo Two Gallants brought their brand of dark roots music to the nearby High Watt.
The Gallants, who gained widespread attention with a pair of Saddle Creek releases in 2006-2007, have returned to their raw blues project after a five-year recording hiatus.
The Bloom and The Blight, out this month on ATO Records, is a mostly hard-rocking affair, with a few lighter touches, such as the bittersweet, “Broken Eyes.”
The band had a nice draw at the Americana festival, where most of the acts playing have a more obvious connection to the international roots scene. The Gallants were a reminder of the Americana genre’s lineage to pre-war blues and primitive recordings.
Back at the Cannery, Robert Ellis was previewing new tunes, like the sad, slow jam. “Houston I’m leaving tonight/Houston I’m losing the fight/You remind me of too many things,” he sang on the sentimental ballad.
The ode to Houston and a new Paul Simon-tinged song about watching TV will both presumably appear on Ellis’ follow-up to last year’s excellent sophomore release, Photographs (New West).
If some of the newer material is tender and intricate, there was also a bluegrass tempo wrong-versus-right ballad with a strong Appalachian feel. “It’s a hell of a thing to do to a kid just to teach him right from wrong,” sang Ellis on the verse, before the song’s eerie melismatic chorus.
Like any festival, the Americana’s programming encourages—forces, really—a fair amount of premature show hopping.
Towards the end of Ellis’ set, I ran back to Mercy, hoping to snag the end of Dylan LeBlanc’s show.
Walking in, the Muscle Shoals’ phenom and Shreveport bassist Mus Gillum could be heard singing a deep country-soul version of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”
“I’ll keep on loving you whether times are good or bad, happy or sad,” they sang on one of the night’s high points. Good times, indeed.