“Oh what a night:” Levi Strom, Kath Bloom, and Melissa Underwood show review (HMML, 1/31/11)

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Despite the Indian Summer daytime temps out here in Big Sur (yeah, I’m looking at you Chicago), Monday night brought a fine wintry canyon-chill at the Henry Miller Library. Perhaps it was for the best. A fire was set, vinyl spun, wine flowed, the Christmas lights remained lit, and thirty or so souls squeezed inside the Library for a night of un-amplified, intimate music.

You see, last April, we demolished a wall – well, two walls – inside the Library, thereby really opening the space up. Makes you wonder why it took us so long to do it. And, having done it, the inside of the library is now quite conducive to indoor music. That’s just what happened when Melissa Underwood, Kath Bloom, and Levi Strom graced the stage/floor the other night.

Melissa kicked things off. She’s from up the road in Carmel Valley. Armed with her acoustic guitar and billowy cloud-like voice, she spun gentle, regal folksy tunes about redwood trees, reincarnation, and her two dogs. In fact, the set was bookended by two stellar originals, with a healthy dose of somewhat obscure covers (Curtis Mayfield, some folk singer from Minneapolis) thrown in. At the risk of belying a lack of imagination, I must say, she had the poised grace of, say, Joan Baez, with a hearty dose of breezy mysticism, not unlike Vashti Bunyan. It ruled.

Up next was Kath Bloom.

Kath, from Connecticut, has been performing and writing achingly beautiful songs since the 1970s, and she did not disappoint. To my virgin ears, she seems haunted, constantly looking over her shoulder for the tenacious, howling ghosts of lost love. (And who isn’t, after all?) Because of this – and also, more importantly, because of the joy and sheer buoyance that deceptively underlie many of her songs – she struck a powerful emotional chord with many listeners. In fact – and this is unprecedented, really – an audience member left a note for her, saying she’d never been so moved.

Kath had another guitarist, local fiddle maestro Lauri Kost, and other singers backing her up, and, upon prodding the audience to sing along, towards the end of the set, the place felt like an old-time revival minus the “you’re-gonna-burn-in-Hell” stuff. Good vibrations!!!

Levi Strom came up next. Levi is local-boy-made good, and has been on the road for almost a month now; first with LA-based Cave Country (who were in attendance and performed a few stellar, three-part harmony-rich tunes) and now with Kath.

Levi (see pic) weaved tremendously delicate, you-can-hear-a-pin drop, gravity-heavy tunes. Neil Young-ish, sure. Will Oldam-ish, ok, yeah. Townes-y, yeah, why not? But also quite original in a way I cannot articulate. There was a…riskiness. It was like he was walking a tightrope. The air was viscous. Only when he finished a tune could you feel like you could safely exhale. In fact, it was only a few minutes ago I just exhaled.  It was a dare.

If I recall correctly, Kath came on afterwards for a few songs to take us home, and not soon after, that was that.  We put some Marty Robbins on the hi-fi and shooed everyone out.   It was a school night, after all – gotta be back at work and in the cube bright and early.

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