Now, that is what you call a CD release party. Main stage, Birchmere: legendary east coast hub of all things bluegrass. Stand in front of that iconic stage door and come out swinging with a tune as magnetic as Asheville City Skyline and you rightfully have a scene afoot. A veritable situation, some might say.
The Lonesome Trio (Ed Helms, Ian Riggs and Jacob Tilove) owned the illustrious Birchmere stage on June 4th for one long wonderful set. They showcased original songs from their soon-to-be officially released album, The Lonesome Trio. The occasional shout-outs of obscure Office references occurred. But beyond the few, all were focused on the fingers flying and the soulful sound striking their ears. This, my friends, was about the music. Good music. Fun music. Soul-tugging music. It came down to three talented musicians, who clearly have been playing together for a long time, and the pleasure they provided a grateful audience through a series of songs of poems, odes, and pure picking.
Jacob and Ed traded lilting runs while Jacob crooned the witty Appalachia Apologia, a song that harkens a 1950’s sound. Yet, when we expected words of love and sap, we, most enjoyably, found raw truth and sting. Ed showed all his string-bending skills when breaking it down on the guitar. Jacob matched the style and feeling on the mandolin before the Trio harmoniously repeated their mea culpa.
Ed’s tender guitar set the mood for the journey the Trio took us on with the masterful Whiskey Drink. Ed sang his heart out on this heart-rending poem of regret and wishes for second chances. His voice bore directly into our own souls. We were there. We wanted that whisky drink. We wanted an opportunity to explain to the ones we love. Jacob’s and Ian’s voices blended seamlessly to emphasize the yearning ache. And, Jacob’s mandolin solo was exquisite; the notes rained down on us like tears. Ian added some spry bass which, thankfully, gave hope for possibly righting the wrong. The closing harmonies combined with the fluttering of the mando and the heartbeat of the bass made this one stay with us long after the show was over.
In another soul-igniter, Ed rolled some beautiful chords off his guitar and sang it true on Mr. Fortune. A prayer constructed of nimble picking, a strong voice and genuine lyrics. That low note sprinkled into the tune just grabbed our spirits and pulled us in. Jacob supplied the touching backdrop with mandolin melodics that seemed to float up to the angels with hope that they would carry the plea forward.
Ian displayed strong pipes of his own while simultaneously laying down the time on the bass on the clever River in the Gutter, a song with spectacular lyrics and shades of an Irish ballad. Ian also sang a song called, Just Once, confidently commanding the room with his magnificent voice.
Jacob sang us the endearing House Song, in which his house let us in on feeling abandoned while Jacob, Ed and Ian impeccably picked the waltz-y melody. He also belted out Kerhonkson Blues, a fun, bouncy tune which gives Jacob a chance to show off on guitar and Ed to wail on harmonica.
Jacob regaled us with High Road Low Road with Ed hitting spot-on harmonies, and Ed led us through the anthem, All Gone to Hell. Sending us off on a higher note, the Trio had us all singing along to Rising Tide of Love and showered us with a heavy dose of optimism with But Tomorrow before launching into a rousing Can’t You Hear Me Calling for the encore. They furiously picked this one crisply and caught the high lonesome, true to their name. They conquered this feat earlier in the night as well with their original, Pigeon’s Foot. Their chops were prominent, they had heads bobbing and toes tapping, and Ian’s bass-slapping generated abundant applause.
The Lonesome Trio will not be lonely for long. Far from it. If the people of western North Carolina – and everywhere – are not already joyously shouting the chorus of Asheville City Skyline, they will be soon. People will flock to see this group. You should be one of them. It is too much fun and just too good to miss.