Taking Up Residency: Balkan, Swing, and Folk (Whatever That Is)
Asheville is one of those towns where tattooed women carry around accordions and hipster dudes wielding fiddles can play you anything you want to hear. Tango, Balkan folk, Western swing, Appalachian old-time, some song by the Arcade Fire. You’d be hard-pressed to find a self-identifying “folk” band in this town without finding a troupe that can do all that and more. In some ways, it’s the truest definition of the genre. Folk music is, after all, in its rawest sense, the music of the people. And, depending where you are in the world, the people like to tango, they like to tap a foot, they like to sit in a corner and be pensive.
So, it’s not particularly special that this Asheville-based troupe who call themselves Resonant Rogues can do all that and more. What’s special is the utter effortlessness with which they move through these styles. Their intense cohesion is so intertwined that it feels like they’re playing with one pair of hands. Harmonies seem to pour from one set of lungs. On the street, you might think they’re a quartet of hipster kids. Onstage, the fluency they wield for their craft (or, I should say “crafts”) is impressive, in that understated kind of “come close and listen up,” kind of way. No doubt a thing they’ve honed playing on the street. But while some busking just doesn’t translate into a listening room, these guys bring the spirits of Django Reinhart and Squirrel Nut Zippers along to mingle throughout their set.
Isis has been experimenting with residencies lately, filling its upstairs lounge with weekly preditcabilities, in hopes that they can support some local artists and get their regulars acquainted with how wonderful it is to hear music in that space. So much of their live music traffic runs through the downstairs theater, you can attend a show there every week and never even know there’s a listening room upstairs.
For two weeks in a row, I’ve climbed the stairs to party with the Resonant Rogues. (I intended to catch their first performance but got the nights confused.) The first night — the one I missed — featured Balkan music, and I can only guess from how the other two nights went down, that it was excellent. Night two, a week later, was stringband swing music. It was the music of the French Pyrenees. (“I wrote this one in the Pyrenees, watching a baby play with farm animals,” the guitarist commented before slaying some song that sounds like some other song you’ve certainly heard before.) There was New Orleans jazz in that set, ragtime, and accordion-driven, straight-up, hit-the-dancefloor swing.
Tonight, back in the lounge for their third and final round, the Rogues delivered an American folk set that borrowed from every region of the country. There was old-timey Vaudeville, Boston singer-songwriter, some more of that New Orleans vibe, plenty of Appalachian grooves (of course), and a healthy dose of Western troubadour. The shape-shifting came off less gimmicky; more fluent. Like one person translating a dozen languages to English.