Kelley Swindall and David Allan Coe in Midtown: Rising Star and Old Lion of Country and Americana
Last night at B.B. King’s, Kelley Swindall had the daunting task of taming a sold-out crowd of drunken fans of the shit-kickingest country music imaginable. And she had to do it with just her voice, and her guitar, and her personal assets. That by the end of her first number, a talking blues about drug-running, she’d pulled the audience to the edge of the stage and got them whooping along, testifies to how effortlessly she worked these people. Which makes sense when you remember that she cut her teeth with a residency at the old Holiday Lounge, one of New York’s most notorious dive bars.
That she closed her set with a muted, enigmatic version of her ballad You Can Call Me Darlin’ If You Want, inspired by the big hit that headliner David Allan Coe ended up closing his show with, also speaks to Swindall’s stage savvy. She engaged the Deadheads in the audience – several, as it turned out – with her original My Minglewood Blues, which is as vindictive as it is funny. Otherwise, she reasserted herself as an individualistic champion of all things Americana, from blues, to the wildly applauded, grisly Murder Song, to neo-Patsy Cline, Big and Rich-style hick-hop, stark mountain music and regret-drenched Nashville pop. And some urban sounds too, including a vivid, late-night Tom Waits-style Soho blues tableau. Although based in New York, Swindall is best known as an attraction on the national touring circuit. Her next gig in her adopted hometown (she’s Georgia-born and raised) is July 15 at 10:30 PM at Arlene’s.
Coe is 76 now, and also still knows how to work a crowd, even if he doesn’t have much of a voice left. Most of his set was a medley of hits he’s written for others, all played in the same key, backed by a band who’d come in if they knew the song and lingered in the background awkwardly when they didn’t. He’d saved the best of those numbers, Cocaine Carolina, for Johnny Cash. The worst were a couple of lame hip-hop co-writes with a Michigan corporate pop guy from the zeros. There were plenty of unexpected moments, including the catchy Please Come to Boston, a folk-pop hit appropriated by Kenny Loggins’ label exec brother in order to get a plaque in the Zager and Evans Hall of Fame.
The big audience singalong, at least until the final number, was Take This Job and Shove It (Coe didn’t mention what might be the best recorded version, by the Dead Kennedys). But as far as the funny songs that are his stock in trade were concerned, that was pretty much it, and that’s too bad, because even in his mid-70s, Coe can still be hilarious and this show wasn’t. Including the audience fight that sent Coe’s considerably younger wife/backup singert scrambling back to the dressing room for good, and also might have cut his set short – and resulted in at least one person leaving the club in an ambulance. Redneck music is fun, but they can be something else.