Finding a folk act on the road is like looking for your shadow at high noon – present every which way you look. We could undoubtedly spend an entire write-up’s worth of words opining and bloviating about which folk artists garner more credence for their craft than others, but arguing the artistry of Americana versus freak folk to indie (we could spend another 1,000 words defining the term, alone) folk is a tired and useless endeavor.
Rather than judging an artist on their ascribed folk “channel,” it has always been my preference to determine a folk artist’s mettle in a more gauntlet-esque fashion – the club show. Consider the folk artist, a story-telling troubadour of the road – disarmingly forthright, observational, and pastoral – that can meld disparate themes in service of song with ease and beauty.
So with that in mind – along with my over-romanticized notion of live music and performances in general – there are few instances in which a folk artist can truly transcend the need for silly sub-genre ascriptions is while standing amongst strangers inside a dark, dingy, subterranean club. There’s an allure (in my mind) to cultivating a lush and lurid essence within a less than alluring aesthetic like a small room or club show.
Granted, that might sound like a knock against club shows, but I can assure the reader it most certainly is not – the grit and filth of a club is half of the appeal – some of my all time favorite folk shows have happened in the grimey (heh) depths of The Basement (Ben Howard in 2012, and S. Carey in 2013).
Long lede aside, it is with great certainty that I happened upon yet another transcendent folk show from the subsurface depths of The Basement, this time with Hattiesburg, Mississippi duo, Oh, Jeremiah.
Following opening sets from Reuben Bidez and Rebecca Roubion, Oh, Jeremiah took to The Basement stage without as much as an introduction or “hello,” but wasted no time captivating their audience with cool cooing harmonies draped upon beat pad loops and rosined strings. Following their opener, namesake member Jeremiah Stricklin took a moment to preface Oh, Jeremiah’s song “Beautiful Monster” as an ode to his home town, only to find out that he and The Basement’s sound guy hailed from the same area.
“Beautiful Monster” featured some deft beat looping and guitar work over solemn lyrics about “an empty house with only darkness to be found,” but things turned somber in earnest when Stricklin set the scene for “Sinking Ship,” a devastating chronicling of his parents’ divorce before checking if everyone in attendence was sufficiently “bummed out.” To say that “Sinking Ship” was heavy would likely sound banal, but good god, the combination of Stricklin’s sobering narrative atop soft cooing vocals of “you’re the life and death of me” brought The Basement to an utter quietude.
Having sufficiently set a tonal benchmark that would make Elliot Smith weep, Stricklin politely asked “If you’re okay with it, we’re going to bring the mood up a little bit,” and bring it up they did. There’s a sincerity and devotion to each other musically and emotionally that Stricklin and Raber exude through their music that recalls visions of Shovels+Rope melded with Idiot Wind and Tallest Man on Earth.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more genuine, bare bones folk act around town, much less out in Hattiesburg, MS. Following a number of additional songs off their upcoming record The Other End of Passing Time, and EP, Our Very Own Kingdom – which included a song preceded by a story connecting Raber with The Revenant through snoring – Oh, Jeremiah ended their set with a beguiling unplugged track driven by little more than euphony of two people intrinsically connected in every manner of being. Needless to say, Oh, Jeremiah more than proved their mettle in terms of the folk artist “club test.”