All hail Session Americana! I shall go on to detail my praises for this band, but must first thank them for bringing a blistering acoustic version of the Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)" to Caffe Lena last Saturday night.
Sitting in a semicircle around a small cafe table, the six members of Session Americana and their multitude of instruments filled the tiny stage. Their movements, during and between songs, were so sympathetically meshed that no one bumped into anyone else as they passed guitars and mandolins back and forth overhead like one satisfied, many- tentacled creature.
While seated pickers and singers can bring to mind campfire singalongs and hootenannies, banish those comparisons from your mind. These are seasoned veterans of the Boston music scene (and geographic points farther afield): Jim Fitting, Ry Cavanaugh, Dinty Child, Sean Staples, Jon Bistline and Billy Beard. With the exception of drummer Beard, all of them are songwriters (and for all I know he may compose as well, but given that he's the supple and undulating pulse of the band, he needn't do anything else to be appointed King of Session Americana). This ensemble elevate the format by dint of their skills as players. Their own songs, as well as those they cover, are at the center of the endeavor, but they also know how to trust the underlying foundation of the song and turn their attentions to one another, listening and playing off whatever transpires. With them all sitting on chairs, the sight creates a stunning series of surprises as their performances are filled with more pizzazz than many of their standing and leaping brethren.
As is their custom, the band invited a local musician to join their ranks for a couple numbers. Sarah Pedinotti of Railbird took a seat around the table for a song of hers, followed by Tom Waits' "Clap Hands." Regarding the former, its resonant bearing and poetic narrative would have been left more magically intact had it not been preceded by her telling how she came to write it. The song spoke perfectly well for itself. Pedinotti is a talent to watch; she just needs the confidence to not behave like a mother continually combing her child's hair before a school photo is taken.
The only aspect out of place with Session Americana is their name. It conveys an identity that says "project," but this is a band through and through. Their camaraderie and interplay are very real, and there's no shortcut to that: You get together, play for a couple years, and voila: a world-class outfit.
I'd give them 100 miles. That is to say, if they're playing anywhere within 100 miles of your home, you drive there and are grandly rewarded for your effort.