Last Thursday I made a weekday trek to Johnny Brenda’s for a late night show and regretted nothing. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Johnny Brenda’s (J.B.) is a small haven in the Northern Liberties/ Fishtown area. They serve up local brews, decent food, eclectic atmosphere and a steady rotation of brilliant, under-the-radar, affordable acts.
Thursday’s feature was an artist I’ve been more recently exposed to – the Dubliner, James Vincent McMarrow. This singer/songwriter marries his haunting voice and lyrics in perfect folk union. His voice resembles some form of quasi-falsetto with a raspy quality that manages to carry itself beautifully and distinctly.
This was his inaugural stop on his first American tour. He came backed by a full band that displayed resounding vocal harmonies at the drop of a hat. I had not heard such perfect pitch from a live ensemble since I saw Neko Case last year. When the entire band, with all their instruments, joined in; it was emotionally stirring. However, it was also overpowering James’ voice. He seemed to strain over it and be most comfortable with himself and the guitar. Yet, I’m not convinced that wasn’t mostly the venue and/or the jet lag. This strain was in no way compromising to the show as a whole.
J.B. proved to be the perfect venue for McMarrow. It mirrored his display of unassuming intimacy. Definitely catch him on this tour, if you can. My prediction is that he’ll develop a strong following this year and thus get the notoriety he deserves. Inevitably ticket prices will rise to uncomfortable heights and venues will be less intimate. It’s best to take advantage of this before that happens.