Sunday, January 26, 2014

Underhill Rose's Sublime Charm

Kim's birthday is coming up in a few weeks and I'd been thinking hard about what I could do to surprise and delight her.

After 33 years of marriage, there's a lot of stuff that comes easy between us. We think alike on any number of things. Sometimes, much to our own amusement, we blurt out the same sentence at the same time. All those years together can work in your favor like that.

But sometimes it's difficult to come up with something different that still has meaning. All those years together can sometimes work against you, too, when you're trying to be original.

While I was wrestling with this dilemma, I was looking forward to yet another appearance of the fabulous Americana music trio Underhill Rose at High Rock Outfitters. Without hardly thinking, I dashed off an email request to singer/banjoist Eleanor Underhill asking if they would recognize Kim's approaching birthday and play her favorite UR tune "Learn." Oh, yeah, and make sure Kim doesn't know a thing about it.

From left, Molly Rose Reed, Salley Williamson and Eleanor Underhill at work.
 On Saturday night, we ambled into HRO and found seats on the front row. About eight songs into their opening set, Eleanor paused to recognize an upcoming birthday in the audience and extended a hand toward Kim. Polite applause trickled through the room. Then Eleanor added that Bruce dedicates this song, "Learn," to you, Kim.

About three lines into the tune Kim was brushing tears from her cheeks. YES! This was one of the best gifts I'd ever given her. And Underhill Rose never sounded better than they did on that song on that night.

What happened here illustrates Underhill Rose's own sublime charm. Clearly, Eleanor, singer/guitarist Molly Rose Reed and singer/upright bassist Salley Williamson have all the gifts: musicianship, voices and stage presence. They've also been kissed by the Muses, resulting in some wonderful original tunes like "Little House", "They Got My Back", "Bare Little Rooms" and, yes, "Sublime Charm." And those are just to name a few.

I'm starting to think that UR's real gift is the way they interact with their fans. They took a 20-minute break between sets and mingled with the 60-70 people in the room, no doubt creating, one by one, new fans while cementing ties with their faithful friends. I feel like it's all heartfelt and true. They make you like them and you don't even know it's happening until you think about it later. And then you want more.

Later in the evening (the girls, by my count, performed 30 songs and were on stage for about two-and-a-half hours. OMG. Where are you going to find quality entertainment like that for $10?) they surprised me with something different. Salley laid down her bass and took a seat at the bar. Molly and Eleanor then struck the opening chords of a song so familiar it sent me reeling through time.

"This sounds like 'In My Life,'" I turned to Kim, hardly believing what I was hearing. This is my all-time favorite Beatles tune — I want it played at my funeral — and Molly caressed the lyrics with a soulful rendering that I suspect could have gotten even John Lennon's attention. Tears started running down my cheeks. But that's me.

The most astonishing moment of the night may have been their harmonies on "Unused to You." Three-part harmony is a hallmark of this group, and over the past two years, since Salley joined them, the blending of their pitch-perfect vocals is now something akin to seamless precision. At one point in the harmonized chorus, Kim and I simply looked at each other, our mouths dropping to our chins. The hair on my arms was standing straight up even though I was swathed in Under Armour. It was, simply, a spectacular moment.

Yes, yes. I know. I'm tripping over myself — again — over Underhill Rose. But I can't help myself. Something special is going on here and it's a wonderful thing to see.

And hear.

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