Concert Review: Reese Fulmer & The Carriage House @ Caffe Lena, 10/28/2023
SARATOGA SPRINGS–Local musician Reese Fulmer and The Carriage House Band returned to Caffe Lena for two sets on the historic stage on October 28th. Fulmer, whose first time performing was an open mic experience at the famed listening room, had also volunteered and later worked for Caffe Lena. Expectations were high that his original music would not only delight but broaden once again the boundaries of Fulmer’s emerging Americana sound.
The concert didn’t disappoint.
Performing over two hours of Fulmer’s original music, with a Josh Ritter cover woven in for some fun during the encore, Reese Fulmer and The Carriage House Band took Fulmer’s music to new places with lush sounds and raw moments that helped to layer the already beautiful lasagna of lyrics, harmonies, and plucking that makes Fulmer’s music so much more than Americana.
Take the song “3am,” a piece that stands alone as an outstanding singer-songwriter performance with a guitar accompaniment. Now add Jimi W on guitar, and suddenly you have not only a song that makes you ponder Fulmer’s lyrics but gives you time to do so with some gritty guitar riffs to dance with your brain.
You can find the same thing with almost every Fulmer tune performed during this concern and note the expansion of the song to a whole new level. Take the song “Sinner’s Prayer” and add Sara Milonovich’s fiddle, and now we have something that sounds more like Southern rock. Take “Long Black Car” and watch the five musicians on stage crescendo to a lush, dense wall of sound to a pianissimo level to emphasize the song’s meaning.
The dramatic musicianship of all this was spellbinding, and while I didn’t love it for some songs (I’ll always be a purist and want the slow, wandering vibe of Reese quietly singing “All the Summertime Sunshine” solo), it worked wonders on “To Be Alone” and “San Francisco.”
Fulmer’s lyrics are philosophical in nature, questioning meaning in life and also challenging the lack of ethics surrounding our choice to allow human suffering. “To live the way you are is to be alone” resonates with Fulmer’s ability to at once connect with others while acknowledging that we are, on some level, all very alone at the end of the day.
Fulmer’s music had me dancing in my seat, and it was the first time at Caffe Lena that I actually wished we had room to get up and dance across the floor. “Running in Place” was particularly lively.
He ended his first set with “If I Fall,” and I instantly knew I had found my favorite new Fulmer song. He opened the second set with “Just Gravy #9,” an exploration of sound that Fulmer calls “a democratic improv.” Curiously engaging, these improvs have come to delight and challenge listeners to push beyond the boundaries of what they may or may not understand musically.
Fulmer’s lyrics resonate with me as they often seem to question our lack of morality in witnessing violence, especially poverty around us, and challenge us to look at ourselves in that same light. At one point, Fulmer had the audience singing, “It’s not the devil, it’s the rich man’s fault,” in a call and response. What made me laugh was how each of us sitting there at Caffe Lena, privileged in our ability to attend concerts with full bellies, are exactly the rich men at fault for children going hungry. Fulmer got us to voice our culpability, even if we lacked insight.
I adore that about Fulmer.
But he also makes us laugh, yelling “Whoa, whoa” when he makes mistakes and laughing at himself with his friends on stage. Fulmer is a humble and likable performer, and he brings with him on stage a hugely talented mosaic of musicians from across Nippertown. On Saturday, the mammoth talent of Chris Carey on drum kit was matched by James Gascoyne’s bass playing and Chris Bloniarz on alto mandolin. And, of course, there was the clever and smooth electric guitar played by Jimi W, who almost completely steals the show with his playing.
The warmth of the band was like being under a wool blanket on a rainy day. It was comfortingly full in the sound and filled the listening room with a richer, deeper sound than I’m accustomed to there. It scratched every now and then, but the comfort and weight were more pleasing than otherwise.
Every time I see Fulmer, I walk away saying, “That was definitely even better than last time, and I loved last time.” Here’s to his next performance and new music, as it promises to only expand into greater and greater expectations.