On my drive back to New York, from South Florida earlier this week, I took a brief detour West, and found my way to Jack of the Wood, on Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. It was there that I had the great pleasure of meeting, and performing an opening set for, Laney Jones and the Lively Spirits on January 6th. It was a fantastic way to start off the 2015 new year. The band is Matt Tonner-acoustic and electric guitars/harmony vocals, Curtis Seligson -bass guitar/dobro/harmony vocals, Alex Shames- drums and, of course, Laney Jones, who sings and plays banjo, harmonica, tenor guitar, ukulele and on occasion will mimic a muted trumpet solo with her voice. Matt and Curtis also switched instruments on a few songs. My immediate first impression, when we all met before the show, was that these are the best kind of people, genuinely good people, easy going, friendly and inviting. Laney talked about her love for the claw hammer style of banjo playing that she does so well, and how her passion for it led to her boyfriend, Matt, playing all of her guitars (which Matt does so well). While sorting out the set list for the evening, they included songs from the first album as well as many new songs which they plan to start recording soon, at North Avenue Studios in Deland Florida. 

The set started with "Broken Hearts," off the first album, my personal favorite, followed by "Devil Down" and "Black Coffee" (Matt and Curtis switched guitars for this one). A new song followed, with Laney, Matt and Curtis singing, in a very tasteful three-part harmony, I can't begin to know everything I thought I knew. By the fifth song, the crowd began to dance as the band played what started as a slow minor-key vamp, with Laney on Banjo, singing...Who could love a fool like me...followed by Matt and Laney exchanging question and answer solos during the song's uptempo ending.The crowd loved every minute of it. "Bad Luck Charm," was next and then "I've Endured," a rousing cover of a bluegrass song written by North Carolina native and great, Ola Belle Reed. Laney commented, "I don't know what else can make you dance like bluegrass music." Someone in the audience yelled out "Whiskey!" And so Laney, without skipping a beat, picked up her Ukelele and harmonica and the band joined in on "Homemade Shine." This song further cemented my second impression: that this group of genuinely good people are also very fine musicians indeed. The song featured a solo by each band member -- Matt played a smooth guitar, Laney wailed on the Harp, Curtis shined with solid, melodic bass lines and Alex showed masterful restraint with some very tasty Jazz finesse. The band continued to engage the crowd with several more new songs, including one during which Laney switched over to a four-string, tenor guitar she had just picked up in West Virginia. She stayed with the tenor guitar and harmonica for the next song, a ballad, and as more of the crowd joined those already dancing in front of the stage. Laney sang, When you're with me I forget my troubled mind. When the song was over someone in the crowd yelled out "You guys are awesome!!!" And they are. They played two more slow songs for the dancers and ended the set with an up-tempo number with Laney on banjo and harp and Matt alternating on strummed and picked guitar parts, as Curtis and Alex kept the well-oiled machine moving.What struck me most was the ease with which they were each able to authentically reproduce very varied musical styles, on multiple instruments, in a cohesive set that simply made great musical sense.

On the day following the show at Jack of the Wood, Laney and the band would travel to Spindale, NC, for a radio interview at WNCW, then on with the rest of their tour from there. I listened again to the first album on my long drive back to New York and look forward to the release of Laney Jones and the Lively Spirits' second record soon.

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