Temps crept close to 100 Wednesday night in the city, humid enough to warrant calling it “sultry,” all too perfect a term for the evening of music at T.T. the Bear’s Place. Cory Branan and Audra Mae offered up stripped-down sets made up of old releases and new, the night kicked off by Allston-based Jeff Rowe.
Jeff managed to rock out in a plaid flannel shirt, belting out pieces like “Crutch” in spite of the heat. He hopped off the stage when he finished, grabbing a cup of beer and joining the crowd to catch Audra Mae. Audra, decked out in a black dress and a rabbit foot necklace (she certainly didn’t need it), hypnotized the audience with songs off of The Happiest Lamb, her Haunt EP, and her repertoire with The Almighty Sound. Opening with “Ne’er Do Wells,” Audra’s smoky vocals and smoldering syncopation made the crowd pulsate. Not bad with wry banter either, Audra told the audience that she wrote “The River” about what it’d be like to get in trouble and not be able to get out of it. She followed up with some advice: “Don’t call a goody-goody to help you out…I hate hall monitors,” right before she launched into “My Friend the Devil.”
Amidst the rollicking tracks were the slower, meditative ballads; “Old Italian Love Song” wouldn’t be out of place on to hear at a cozy, lantern-lit piazza; it was a lovely old-fashioned love serenade. Speaking about being on the road, Audra mentioned that Cory had a song about the Civil War, which spurred her to bring out her own for the night, “Sullivan’s Letter.” Based on an actual note she read, Audra made an emotional connection with it, translating its tragic history into a melancholy tale.
When Cory Branan took the stage, the audience surrounded the space in a tight semi-circle. He started with “The Corner,” also the opener on his new album Mutt. He told the audience that he recorded the track with Jon Snodgrass, quipping that if they were real quiet, you could picture Jon there singing alongside him. The whole room was in complete silence on “Survivor Blues,” and as he finished, Cory said his upbeat stuff would probably segue into a “sad bastard set,” but he was in such a good mood that it might not. Cory revealed halfway through that he never has a pre-determined set list, usually winging it or taking audience requests. So, he stayed true to form.
Cory had a palpable connection with the crowd, warmly praising the fan that made a tee-shirt spotted with references to each of his songs. He took requests, from “The Prettiest Waitress in Memphis” to “Bad Man,” tossing in a cover of John Prine’s “Mexican Home” and his own “Wreck of the Sultana,” about the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history.
The audience sang along and grooved in place as Cory closed with “Girl Named Go,” a lively 60’s rock kind of jam. He let the room take the reins on the chorus while he played the hell out of his guitar. The energy was so infectious that the warm air was forgotten, each person drawn in and shouting along. Amidst the raucous cheers, Cory thanked the audience for coming out, hopping over to the bar for a well-deserved drink.