Written by James Killen
It was out in the sticks on Highway 6 again to the JP Hops House. It’s an innocuous little pub next to the Shipley’s Donut House near Westheimer. It’s seldom crowded, but has a great sound system, a constant stream of singer/songwriters, a great selection of beers on tap and a Wednesday soup night that can’t be beat.
Charles Bryant met up there with Rebecca and John Stoll, also known as Grifters and Shills. They are old friends and Rebecca and John invited Charles out to join them for a Saturday night performance. Grifters and Shills have played the venue several times, but this was Charles Bryant’s first show at this far West side stage. All of the performers had played earlier in the day and were working themselves up to turn it on one more time for this nine to midnight (and beyond) show.
G&S started out the evening with a country folk tune called “The Evil I Know”. Rebecca played bass most of the evening while John started out on an acoustic guitar. They quickly worked themselves up to a high energy level and by the fourth tune, John slipped into the slide guitar for a bluesier feel. He started out the Woody Guthrie standard, “Ain’t Got No Home in this World Anymore” with an a Capella intro and then ramped it up once more with the slide and Rebecca singing harmony.
John then switched to the 3 string cigar box guitar and things really heated up. (I later heard John tell Charles that the 3 string guitar box was great because you could use any three strings you wanted, even a bass string, and could tune it however you wanted. No rules man.) He played it with a slide and really wailed.
John switched to the banjo for “Bought and Sold” while Rebecca continued to sing sweet melodies. They followed that with “What We Do”, singing forgive all for what we do. They slowed it down for some “feely” stuff with “Flying Blind”. They continued to pump the energy into the small audience with “Devil’s on my Side”.
John picked up the slide again and Rebecca switched to the ukulele. Rebecca slipped a kazoo into her harmonica harness for “Keeping Score” and they closed their set with John on the 3 string cigar box for some rolling country blues on “Sun Sinking Low”.
It took a few minutes for Charles Bryant to get strapped in to the seat on the stage and then he kicked it off with “Six Foot of Troubles”, followed by “Time Won’t Let Me Let Go of You” featuring a very pretty chord. He followed that with a bevy of songs off of the new CD, “Kiss the Sun”, doing “It’s About Love”, “Nursing Home” and the highly entertaining “MRI Song”. Charles has a story for every song and they are almost as entertaining as the songs themselves.
He treated the audience to a new composition called “I’ll Never Get Over You”, then it was back to “Kiss the Sun” with the title track, “Just Kill ‘Em All (A Love Song)” and the very touching “Evan’s Song”. In deference to his wife, who said that he should write a happy song since all of his songs were about death and unhappiness, Charles wrote “The Happy Song” which extols the virtues of all kinds of good things in life and then uses the refrain, “But you’re gonna die”, I guess for consistancy’s sake.
Charles picked up one of Rebecca’s kazoos for “What I Need Today” for a silly effect and they all had a great laugh about how it’s to be played. He went back to his first CD “Sandcastles” for “June 20th” and then pulled out what could become a CW classic, “She Only Love Me When She’s Drunk”. He went back to “Sand Castles” for “Joe Willie” what was to be a tribute to Billy Joe Shaver.
Charles closed out his solo part of the show with two more from “Kiss the Sun”, “Grim Reaper” (featuring some creative guitar work) and “Never Again”.
The show ended with Grifters and Shills taking the stage once more, while Charles donned the banjo for the traditional gospel song, “I’ll Fly Away”.
The evening was a real high energy strum fest, with all three musicians hitting their high energy points throughout the show. The fact that Charles, an agoraphobic that suffers from social anxiety disorder has advanced to the point that he can reach out to an audience the way that he does, is an amazing accomplishment.
In my opinion, if you get the chance to see either of these acts you should go and be prepared to be entertained and if they are all together again, don’t miss it.