Seeing a show by Jo Serrapere and the Willie Dunns is like a languid Sunday drive through the country. Serrapere's stage presence is so reassuring, so soothing, that before she even starts to sing I've snuggled under my coat, relaxing into my chair.
While Serrapere and the fellas set up, she small-talks us, smiling in a beguiling way. On her left, Jef Reynolds handles the upright bass. Drummer Stuart Tucker waits patiently in the back. To her right, tall, lanky John Devine fidgets about with the strings and doodads on his electric guitar. "We're gonna start out with a little flirtation," she smirks.
Devine is still rustling about when Serrapere starts. "You like to come around me / and you like to buzz around me and / you like to circle me," she sings, fingerpicking her acoustic. At the last possible moment, Devine stops worrying his equipment and comes in with treated guitar licks. I can't tell whether they've planned it that way or not, but I like it. It feels a bit like flirting, actually.
Serrapere is an utterly convincing songwriter, and the quartet moves subtly from acoustic blues to swing, through Delta blues and old-timey ballads. Threading it all together is Serrapere's magnificent voice. It's subtle, smug, assured, and disarming. Her ballad "I Will" is heartbreakingly beautiful. Serrapere layers harmonica sadness over simple acoustic pickings, and Devine's bottleneck resonator guitar brings the twang to the torch. Her voice reaches into the atmosphere, clear and high, lingering above our heads.
| I lay here thirsty from the heat |
you never looked so good before
now you've entered in my sleep
don't want to wake no more
there was a time I let the sun go down
content with just livin' poor.
It's not that I don't let my feelings go
but you know me I never let it show
but I will . . . Lord I will take the risk
and hold you in my kiss and I will be
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