New Paltz’s Tin Roof Sessions feature two performances per event, typically pairing a touring act with a sympathetic local and placing the two on level footing, inviting us to consider our native talent on the same terms and in the same light as the “name” acts that this little-venue-that-could is often able to rope in, despite its bedroom dimensions. But let’s call the theme of October 26’s Tin Roof Session “Placement and Displacement,” for the bill on this autumn Sunday juxtaposes two senses of what we mean by local talent — the homegrown (Black Horse Riders) and the transplant (Rhett Miller), the former angling for attention beyond their home region, the latter setting down some pretty deep roots here after many storied years of music biz knockabout.
Black Horse Riders is the latest collaboration between singer and multi-instrumentalist Roland Hasbrouck — can’t get more local than that — and guitarist and co-writer Tim Curtis-Verderosa. The pair previously co-fronted the popular earthy rock group Verdes, a band that not only was local but was largely about the local, the deus loci, via Hasbrouck’s historically-aware, layered and multi-racial poetry of place. On their eponymous five-song EP, Black Horse Riders craft a dark, luminous folk rock that manages to feel epic, narrative and broad despite its modest length. Themes of damnation and redemption abound, spiritual yearning in the myth-fired opener “There’s a Place,” and emotional and physical yearning in one of the EP’s real standouts, the rhapsodic lost-love rocker “Static Free.”
The reference points here, if you require them, are classic and none too arcane — the folk- and country-rock of early Neil Young sometimes crossing into a Mick Taylor-era Stones swagger; the beautiful loser crooning of a Gram Parsons partaking occasionally of the oracular and poetic authority of a Leonard Cohen. Recorded with Kevin McMahon at New Paltz’ Marcata Studio, where many a dense and turbulent rock record has been tracked, Black Horse Riders is a haunted, rural mood piece with a hopeful finish. Woody and reverberant, these mixes privilege Hasbrouck’s distinctive tenor, a plaintive, quavering, and swooping thing that thrives on all that air space and the roomy separation of elements.
Black Horse Riders can certainly be called ambient Americana with an implicit sense of historical moment, but it is most certainly not Ulster-cana in the way that duo’s past work might have been, as there is little here that fixes Hasbrouck and Curtis-Verderosa’s new songs in any specific place, and the time coordinates are left vague as well. It is a work that aspires to and achieves a sense of timeless personal and cultural struggle. We are still very much in the peak of the mytho-roots music movement, and one could easily see Black Horse Riders finding its resonance and relevance far beyond the Hudson Valley.
Rhett Miller, on the other hand, has traveled far and wide to finally locate his work here in his adopted home. The long-time New Paltz-area resident came to fame as the winning, super-likable frontman and principal songwriter of Old 97’s, the Dallas band that pioneered the brighter, rambunctious side of alt-country and indie-twang (compared to more ruminative alt-roots peers such as, say, Uncle Tupelo).
Miller’s agreeable voice, his camera-friendly looks and his savant-level way with the words and paradoxes of love singled him out as a solo-career prospect, and for a number of years now this tireless, prolific bard has done both in strict alternation, as Old 97’s have hardly slowed down a single BPM in the new millennium. Miller used his early solo albums as a way to distance himself from the roots milieu. His first albums, The Instigator and the Believer are pretty slick affairs that, to borrow a phrase from the somewhat dubious Dawes song, bear the marks of time spent in Los Angeles and the Largo scene, in the company of producers on the order of Jon Brion (a frequent Miller collaborator) and George Drakoulias.
On 2012’s lovely solo effort The Dreamer, however, Miller “comes home” to a sweet and sad country-rock place. Truly one of our great poets of romantic ardor and romantic doubt, Miller commands the country weeper as if he were born for it. But rather than going home to Texas to make this musical and stylistic gesture of return, Miller stayed home in Ulster, recovering his old roots on his new turf, recording with McMahon at Marcata, calling upon some local players as well.
The Dreamer is dry and immediate in all the ways that Black Horse Riders is wet, verby and remote, highlighting Miller’s effortless melodies and the language that has always perched miraculously between the common and the poetic, the acute detail and the big sentiment. Miller’s voice is so very agreeable, his word play so light on its feet and accessible, it is easy to ignore that his actual take on love is fraught with despair, terminal indecisiveness and a brutal, relentless self-interrogation.
Black Horse Riders and Rhett Miller perform at the Tin Roof Sessions in New Paltz on Sunday, October 26 at 8 p.m. Tin Roof Sessions come with a catch, one little extra layer of mystery. I can not tell you where they happen. You have to go to https://www.tinroofsessions.com and RSVP to get your instructions.
Black Horse Riders, Rhett Miller, Tin Roof Sessions, Sunday October 26, 8 p.m. For information on how to attend, see https://www.tinroofsessions.com.