Written by Traci Rogers
Jun 08, 2012 at 09:00 PM
ImageRecently deemed “The toast of SxSW,” Seattle-based The Head And The Heart proved more than worthy of such a compliment at Houston’s Warehouse Live Friday night, June 8.  They were originally scheduled to play Fitzgerald’s until overwhelming ticket sales required a venue change.

Playing to a capacity-filled Warehouse Live, Charity Rose Thielen (vocals/violin), Josiah Johnson (vocals/guitar), Jonathan Russell (vocals/guitar), Kenny Henly (keyboard), Chris Zasche (bass), and Tyler Williams (drums) proved their talents to be genuine and not just airbrushed music from a recording studio.

Since learning of THTH’s genius in an “Artists to Watch” spring issue of Rolling Stone, I have done nothing but watch them closely and share their brilliance with any willing listener.  To put it simply, they are a phenomena!  After listening to their album several times, I discover something new from these youngsters each time I spin their music or read their lyrics.  They seem wise beyond their years.

I would estimate the six piece band are all members of the twenty-something age bracket which was reflected in the majority of the pearl snap shirt-clad audience. Yet, their songwriting and performing talents suggest they are seasoned to the likes of Neil Young and Ireland’s The Waterboys.

The precocious ensemble began the night with “Coeur D’Alene,” one of the many examples in their budding discography of how logic and emotion work in concert, just as the band’s name suggests.   “Coeur D’ Alene”, in my opinion, is the finest example of how they collaborate with one another when writing lyrics and structuring music and harmonies:

“Wearily waitin’ on the wastin’ of his days . . . A sad son’s smoldering soul . . .” hints at the atrocities dealt Native Americans, as well as the responding emotional reactions like:  “Oh the things people will do for the ones that they love . . . Break down the corridors . . .”  The ugly truth found in U. S. history serves as a metaphor of the heart.

With only one released album (and one exclusive downloadable i-Tunes session), the lyrics on the eponymous 2011 debut all ring of an Ecclesiastical theme.  We can embrace time and deal with the ever-changing emotions that accompany the human condition, or we can kick and scream as time embraces us for the inevitable.  The music mirrors the lyrical changes as well.  The evolving song structures remind me of the blatant transformations in Queen’s rock operas.

Although THTH sound nothing like Queen, their songs often sound like two or three songs rolled into one.    In “Sounds Like Hallelujah,” for instance, the song takes us on a roller coaster of emotions.  After keyboardist Kenny Henly carries us through the darkness of “Mama don’t put no gun in my hand, I don’t want to wind up like these men . . .,” drummer Tyler Williams pounds the song into sweet, spiritual, hand-clapping resolve.  Even though “I’ll miss you someday,” Everyman’s willingness to free what he loves dearly eventually brings peace and contentment, which “For the first time sounds like Hallelujah.”

The exceptionally talented violinist and singer Charity Rose Thielen highlighted the night each time she sang or played a solo part from behind her vine-wrapped microphone stand.  In “Rivers and Roads,” Thielen’s voice first wobbles in anguish like the late Billie Holiday, yet with a clearer reach for climactic vocals that won explosive applause.  Just as well, her organic strings and harmony styles remind me of Caitlin Cary’s understated, yet sophisticated eloquence we hear in the now-defunct Whiskeytown.  The Willie Nelson and Emmy Lou Harris–inspired Sweetheart of the band needs no special coddling; she holds her own firmly.

When or if the individual band members explore new musical ventures, I predict Thielen will enjoy great adoration as a solo artist and as one of the most sought after guest performers like Gillian Welch and Emmy Lou Harris.

Jonathan Russell’s and Josiah Johnson’s voices melt perfectly into three part harmony with Thielen, creating a collective web of deep and tangled emotions.  The three singers sound as if they are siblings who were reared in the Church of Christ a cappella tradition.

The band did not preface each song, so I never knew the titles of their new material.  The sixth song of the set slapped me in the face with its Stax-like 60’s balladry echoes.  I was in awe of the tune, even with what seemed like a brief and barely noticeable sound equipment failure, resulting in flattened vocals.  Nevertheless, Henly rescued the song with a melancholy bridge, reminiscent of Derek and the Domino’s “Layla,” giving the singers a moment to restore vocals.  Such a malfunction could not have been handled better.  Thielen concluded the song with an achingly delightful violin’s lament.  I still have no idea of the song’s identity, but with great anticipation, I look forward to their next CD release!

The Head and The Heart ended the night with an even more intimate encore when Johnson returned to the stage with his guitar for a solo “Honey Come Home”.  The audience even put away their cell phones for this one as couples held one another and sang along with the lone performer.  The remaining band members returned for a few more tunes like the regretful “Winter Song”.  Thielen ended the encore with a heartfelt thanks to Houston for its warm reception.

The more I try to compare The Head and The Heart’s sound with other artists and bands, my findings prove more fruitless.  Sure.  Amazon and i-Tunes offer myriad suggestions, but very little compares to their writing and performing, especially after seeing them live.  Without a doubt, they are the new music savants of the indie-folk rock world.

According to the fan-based website www.lostinmymind.com, we can expect a Fall 2012 CD release and their upcoming tour itinerary.