Hello, Imperfect Strangers
Like a lot of roots musicians, Evan Murdock began in bluegrass. His mandolin work for Madison’s infamous Lonesome Rogues was front and center in live shows during their six-year, weekly residency at Madison’s Wonder’s Pub. The venerable tavern eventually closed and, around the same time, Murdock closed his mandolin case. He picked up his guitar and began to explore the songwriter that had been out of sight all those years beneath the long shadow of the Stanley Brothers.
The Kentucky Waterfalls, his next project with (now) East Coast-based Katie Powderly, was an outlet that allowed him to write and accumulate solid, country folk originals. It also put him back in touch with his dreadnaught — an instrument that matches the burnished wood sound of his singing voice.
The Waterfalls recorded a record of solid tracks and sparked Murdock to branch out even further, leaving the duo format behind for a new, larger musical family that became Evan Murdock and the Imperfect Strangers.
Rogues and strangers. There’s a theme here. These are the fools and fools-to-be that Murdock addresses in his new music. The Imperfect Strangers’ set Wednesday night featured a slightly altered line-up than usual which, in a way, showcases the depth of roots music talent now residing in Wisconsin’s capitol city.
Nick Brown, himself a talented, local roots bandleader and songwriter, sat in on bass. Aaron Jossart, Murdock’s accordion player and back-up singer, indulged himself with a full set of electric keys. Hey, it was his birthday. Local rock wizard Dan Walkner-walked-on deep in the set and played slide guitar. Amanda Rigell, Murdock’s other vocalist was out of state with family. For those who have become accustomed to Murdock’s live act, the shake-up, combined with an all-electric configuration, provided a unique audience experience and seemed to loosen up the one night line-up in a positive way.
“She Don’t Need Anything” is a Lucinda Williams-worthy, mid-tempo meander through one man’s rejection. Colin Good is a melodic drummer, one who understands the meaning of a precisely struck floor tom note. He keeps the song, which sort of wants to throw the bit and run faster, right where it should be. “Sweet Potato,” Murdock’s bouncy Dan Hicks-like number brought the dancers out.
Like many medium sized cities with huge universities, Madison is the kind of place where you can find a Ph.D candidate in hydrology fronting a country band. That’s exactly what Murdock is. Luckily, he pours his intelligence into the funny side of his material as well. “Misery” has a chorus Steve Goodman could have written:
I hope your dog runs away.
And you lose your hair someday.
I wish you misery—like the kind that you gave to me.
The band and the audience at the High Noon sang this one together, loose and drunk. Like imperfect strangers.