There’s no prettier performance venue in the area than the repurposed Chelsea Depot. The ornate nineteenth-century former railroad stop with curlicue moldings, wooden floor, high ceilings, and many tall windows is the kind of place that holds countless memories and untold stories. It’s the perfect setting for an intimate evening of roots-inspired folk singer-songwriters.
Annie Capps, one of the most beloved and talented local practitioners of that art, must have sensed that when she began hosting the monthly On the Tracks Songwriter Showcase series there three years ago. By now, a lot of other people in the area agree; the series draws a healthy crowd for each performance. They come for the music, the coffee and cookies, and for the sense of community that fills the Depot for every show. The Amtrak trains don’t stop, but they sometimes roar by–with luck during intermission … or during a train song.
Like earlier concerts in the series, this month’s Showcase on Wednesday, February 3 (see Events) will feature two musicians, Billy Brandt and Billy King, each of whom has a long track record as a respected songwriter and much-loved performer. The double bill offers striking similarities but also sharp contrasts.
Brandt and King are each quite comfortable wailing with electric guitar and rocking out with drums, bass, and band backing; Brandt has long been fronting bands like Grievous Angel and the Sugarees, while King started out in a preteen duo with his brother Kenny, performed with the King family band, and has most recently been heard with the Understorey. But both are equally at ease with just an acoustic guitar, which is how they’ll perform at OTT. And both have been heavily influenced by the Sixties–Brandt grew up in that decade, and King was steeped in it through his parents’ love of its music.
But there are distinct differences too. Brandt has a smoky, warm, well-worn baritone, while King’s clear tenor allows him to comfortably hit notes others strain for. Brandt’s songs project an urban sensibility. On his bluesy, swingin’ “Mexico” he sings, “When the world closes in I just have to go, it’s time to run to Mexico, for how long I just don’t know.” But while Brandt is city, King is pure country. He’s lived and worked all his life on his family’s farm near Manchester, and his songs reflect that reality. “Standing on the part of the world where I belong / Taking up some space on the place that I depend on / Astronauts and pioneers setting out for new frontiers / I’m OK right where I’ve landed / I shall remain firmly planted.”
Emily Slomovits will be backing both Billys with fiddle and harmony vocals. If you glance down to the end of this column, you’ll note our identical last names. But don’t just take this proud papa’s word for it–both songwriters think highly of her as well. You’ll enjoy them all.