Written by Samuel Barker
Jan 22, 2010 at 09:00 PM
ImageIt is too often you hear people complain how “The Houston music scene sucks!” and while they’re right, it has little to do with the musicians out playing. The scene is weak here, as it is all over, partly because people are busy on iPhones, YouTube and other distractions. However, that rant is for another time.

The one thing in the Houston music scene that does not suck is the talent. On this night, two people who have done a lot of work in the Houston music scene, as well as a friend from Sweden, provided one of the best nights of music I’ve had from a “local” show.

Vanessa Peters may be from the Dallas area, but her ties to Houston are strong. Local performers regularly back her when she performs in the area and she usually features a list of local singer-songwriters on her shows, which is always a treat.

The local singer-songwriter to appear with her this time was THE singer-songwriter in the Houston area, Matt Harlan. Steadily out promoting his new album, Tips and Compliments, Harlan has that knack for telling stories with his songs that captivate the audience and touch them emotionally.

Opening up with “Walter,” a tale of youthful adventures and coming of age through a boy following his grandfather’s dog, the pace was set perfectly. “Tips and Compliments” paints the real life of a working musician these days. “Just living on Tips and Compliments.”

Backed by pedal steel player Bart Maloney, the songs were presented in perfectly simple, yet atmospherically pleasing tones. The guitar playing of Harlan mixed with Maloney’s swells made the sound flow perfectly.

The song “Dresses,” a love song in essence, but in the end, the sentiment is perfect for all of us. “There were times I could have settled down, but I’m glad I didn’t yet.” We’re glad you didn’t either.

ImageVanessa Peters fit perfectly in the middle between MC Hansen, who opened it up and Matt Harlan, who closed the night down.

She’s got a wonderfully upbeat folk sound happening. Flanked by MC Hansen on lead and a keyboard player, whose name I regretfully cannot recall, Peters created a cheery mood even when the lyrics were heavy and insightful.

Starting off the night with “Good News,” the opening track off her new album, Sweetheart, Keep Your Chin Up, the mood was set quickly. Delightfully inviting music with lyrics of second guessing and looking at the world wearily. A wonderful mix.

The highlight of the set for me was “Austin, I Made a Mess.” This song should be the anthem for all the people who pack up to head for the “Live Music Capitol of the World.” It captures the feeling of heading out after not finding the wonderland you imagined. Or so it seems like that to me.

Peters captures her emotions well, which is a key for a songwriter, then she conveys them in a way which isn’t hard to swallow.

First up on this night was Sweden’s MC Hansen. Man, this guy was a throwback. Dressed in leather shoes, black slacks, printed dress shirt and black vest, he appeared to be a folk singer from the depression era right there, on stage, in 2010.

His songs fit the vibe as well. They were whimsical at times, made points about the world at others. He was at home on the stage and told stories that made people listen. He felt like a friend on stage coming to visit you. You could instantly see why he and Peters got along and hit the road together.

I had never heard him before this night, so I cannot offer you song titles or the like. I can only say to search out this man’s music and enjoy it. I was quite smitten with it by the end of his set.

It’s great when you head out to see music you know is good and then find an unexpected prize in a fellow performer. So, when you say the music scene around Houston sucks, ask yourself when the last time you supported it was. Then get out there and see some of the folks keeping it going, they’re some jewels, believe me.