The difference a change in personnel creates within a band can be amazing, especially if the musician who comes in is a strong one. That was definitely the case with Wild Cards, the group that played at the Cheeky Monkey for this month’s First Friday celebration. The playing of guitarist Sara Campbell, bass player Scott Vegh and drummer Gerry Hawley and how they meshed together was known well enough to think there might be an idea of what to expect. The first few seconds of their work proved how wrong that notion was emphatically.
The entry of singer Renee Card altered things in ways that couldn’t be predicted. Part of the reason is that she’s an exceptional singer but citing that as the only factor would be an oversimplification. She brings a touch to the delivery of songs that shifts how the band members react to what’s sung dramatically. The signature touches that mark their work were still present but they appeared in ways dramatically different enough to make them seem like a completely new band. A number of the songs on their setlist were standard fare for the group but those frequently marked the spots where the changes were the most noticeable. ’Folsom Prison Blues’ and ‘Ring of Fire’ (for instance) weren’t about to be skipped (because Sara “just might be a huge fan of Johnny Cash”) but the form they had was an about face from how they’d been presented in the past. That’s just one example.
Sara Campbell brought an air of dominance to her guitar work that combined the best elements of strength and subtlety. Bassist Scott Vegh and drummer Gerry Hawley clearly enjoyed creating a silk pocket for the others to work from and that only increased as their performance moved ahead. By the close, long before in fact, Hawley was keeping time with panache driven fills while Scott threaded increasingly melodic playing into his rhythmic threads. Sara responded by adding some delectable picking that complimented her already powerful contributions. Renee Card responded to all of it like one taking flight.
Sating that Renee has a great voice would be an understatement. She has range and control of her pitch that allows her to bite into songs with breathtaking ease. That’s only part of what she brings though. She also has a sense of what to do with songs to mark them with a distinctive touch. ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’ and ‘Folsom’ were played with relaxed tempos gave the music room to breathe without sacrifice to their power. ‘Hallelujah’, by contrast, was sung with virtually no embellishment resulting in one of the most stirring renditions of the piece that could be heard. The group jelled around what she was doing with an effortless feel that made the ensemble a joy to listen to and watch.
The mix on their sound was every good as well, especially given that it had been set up beforehand and only minimal changes were made while they performed. Instruments and vocals had clear separation at all times making the subtle touches such as the harmony singing done by Gerry Hawley and bits of lead playing inserted by Sara prominent.
The most important thing though was that they were a lot of fun. That made it into a great time.
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Coming December 1st First Friday – Cordcalling – CLICK HERE for info