LIVE: Wild Ponies @ Steamer No. 10 Theatre, 9/5/14

Review by Fred Rudofsky

A small but enlightened crowd of roots music lovers caught the local debut of Wild Ponies, a ridiculously talented husband and wife duo, at the Steamer No. 10 Theatre in Albany last Friday night.

Doug Williams (guitars and vocals) and Telisha Williams (upright bass and vocals) may call Music City their home, but their hearts are still in small town Virginia where they met. Rootsy yet modern, their sound was engaging and featured a set list that drew generously from their acclaimed 2013 album Things That Used to Shine (Ditch Dog Records). It’s no wonder they count among their fans and friends Elizabeth Cook and Stacey Earle. They are the real deal.

Murder ballad “Trigger” brimmed with vengeance; its opening line (“Well, I swear the gun went off before I even pulled the trigger”) was as sly as Telisha’s voice was sweet. Doug’s Willie Nelson-esque guitar solo during “Trouble Looks Good on You” prompted big applause; half-jokingly, he confessed that his prowess may have had something to do with having a high fever earlier in the day. The title cut was a perfect duet performance, invoking in name and spirit Hazel Dickens. Telisha spoke of the band’s love of distilled spirits and taking fans on a Kentucky Bourbon Trail Ride prior to a slow burn take on “Learning to Drink Whiskey,” and later touted her brand of perfume as a lead into “Ghost of a Knoxville Girl.”

Active in songwriting workshops for elementary school children, Doug and Telisha spoke in awe of Alyssa McCullough, a girl whose lyrics they set to music for “Radiant,” a mesmerizing snapshot of life’s energy and wonder. Look for it on a future release.

The lyrics to “The Truth Is” had the concision of a Townes Van Zandt song; the chorus in particular was gripping in detailing the repercussions of one woman’s harrowing abuse: “The truth is I’m more broken than brave/ There are things I think about everyday/ Like his footsteps in the hallway.”

Shifting gears, the couple sped into “Massey’s Run,” a vivid account of a NASCAR driver who saw future legend Richard Petty in his rear view mirror “for 26 laps in the spring of 1960.”

“Iris,” a moving tribute to Telisha’s grandmother (“She was quiet and moved slowly/ But somehow I knew she loved me”), “Last Call” (“a gospel drinking” song with some fine Telecaster riffs), and a rocking “Broken” closed out the night, or so it seemed. The audience wanted more, so Doug and Telisha returned for an encore, a marvelous rendition of “I Fall to Pieces” that featured Telisha’s warm voice and understated, soulful bass picking and some sublime guitar by Doug.

With an album titled Bluebird due out at the end of the month, local singer-songwriter C.B. Smith was raring to go. Accompanied by upright bassist Bill Strohm, Smith impressed with some fine fingerpicking during the opening “Highway’s Been Calling My Name” and “Slipping and Sliding through Life.” Smith’s voice grew stronger during the set, especially on songs with political urgency like “When the Waters Rise” and “Oil Trains.”

A delicate uptempo “Bluebird” and “In My Heart of Hearts,” which brought to mind John Hiatt’s domestic confessional style, closed out a well received set.

Trouble Looks Good on You
Things that Used to Shine
Learning to Drink Whiskey
Ghost of an Knoxville Girl
The Truth Is
Massey’s Run
Last Call
I Fall to Pieces (Patsy Cline)

Highway’s Been Calling My Name
Slipping and Sliding through Life
Roni’s Rainy Day
Calamity Jane
When the Waters Rise
Oil Trains
In My Heart of Hearts

1 Comment
  1. michael eck says

    Nice review. Thanks, Fred.

    Next up for the Steamer No. 10 Theatre’s Eclectic Performances Series, Bear Grass on Oct. 3. Don’t miss it.

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