Americana abounds

Jill Fisher

Roe Family Singers at Wussow's. Photos by Jill Fisher.

Another night of hot music at Wussow’s! After writing about the whooping and clogging at this concert café a couple weeks back, Friday, Feb. 24 was another wild and woolly evening there featuring the Roe Family Singers. I had been advised that this group was not to be missed and I’m glad I didn’t.

Black River Revue was the opening act, which I have seen now a couple of times and written about. Great stuff performed as before. On this occasion Nicholas Klee (mandolin) filled in for the absent Nate Hynum. (Klee was quite the jokester too, subjecting the audience to some old chestnuts that made the audience groan.) Electric bass player, Ian Kvale, was the lead vocalist on an excellent cover of the Ween band’s “I Got No Dark Side.” BRR’s lead vocalist, Adam Staria, also performed a well-done cover, “Wicked Love” by Chris Isaak before they relinquished the stage to the headliners.

The Roe Family Singers are based in the Twin Cities area, though their members hail from various places in the Midwest. Husband and wife duo, Quillan and Kim Roe were backed up by the very able musicians David Robinson (acoustic guitar), Pat Loftus (standup bass, of the modern, skinny style) and Jake Johnson (fiddle) at this gig (they comprise one iteration of the band’s changing make-up). Quillan plays both acoustic guitar and banjo and has a commanding voice. Kim also has a fine voice in addition to playing the banjolele, autoharp, bones and kazoo, not to mention her fine “scrubbing” on a washboard and clogging.

They have played in Duluth at least two times before, as far back as 1999, once here when the place was still called Beaner’s. Quillan said this was the best turnout ever for them—having been scheduled to perform at the same time as Charlie Parr, Trampled By Turtles or Pert Near Sandstone on the previous occasions.

The band’s playlist was diverse with traditional early Americana songs, some covers and a good number of original compositions. Quillan was good about stating the name of the songs and gave background on originals such as describing his van breakdown in Two Harbors that led him to remain in these parts for a week, during which he wrote “The Road Is Rocky.” “Jack Malone” was written while staying at Camp Du Nord in Ely. Their original songs were memorable, ranging in tone from fun (“Squirrel Hunters” with clogging) to romantic (“You Be the Melody”) to serious (“The World Without a Gun”). This latter song had profound lyrics, one line being “And Rosa Parks changed the world without a gun.”

As for covers, they included “Hold the Wood Pile,” a Doc Watson song, Townes Van Zandt’s “I’ll Be Here In The Morning,” Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” and Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” In his introduction to the band’s rendition of Bill Monroe’s 1946 “The Rocky Road Blues,” Quillan noted the irony that bluegrass performers try so hard to hold to and replicate the traditional sound of this genre in contrast to Monroe, an innovative composer who brought in other influences and broke the boundaries of this classification.

Four of their CDs were available for purchase that evening: The Earth and All That is in It (2008), The Owl and the Bat and the Bumblebee (2011), Songs of the Mountains Songs of the Plains, (2017) and Heaven Send us Better Times (2013). A fifth CD, Roll Up The Rug (2020), was not available and a sixth is currently in production.

As they assert in their promotions: “Every performance raises a ruckus.” Catch them when they are back up this way or some Monday at the 331 Club in Nordeast Minneapolis where they have had an 18-year residency.

Another Cedar Evening

I thought I was popping in to see a different act altogether at the Cedar Lounge on Saturday evening, Feb. 25, when I discovered a musician unknown to me. I wasn’t disappointed for long—he was Mike Munson from Winona, Minnesota. His music was bluesy and rootsy with nice slide riffs and adept picking.

Switching between two guitars of alternate tunings, he played some covers, including a favorite of mine, recorded by Bonnie Raitt but written by Fred McDowell: “Write Me a Few of Your Lines/Kokomo Blues.” His instrumental, “Low’s Hill” was cool and his originals sounded interesting. He told me he gets up our way fairly frequently, so I will be on the lookout for him again. If you are impatient and in Minneapolis on Tuesday, April 4, you can find him performing at the Icehouse on Nicollet Avenue.

Mike Munson at Cedar Lounge