by Jane Roser
Wednesday’s Clay vs Levi Round 2 musician match-up at Virginia’s Jammin’ Java was an intimate, cozy evening featuring new music, collaborative tunes, popular hits and lots of all-in-good-fun jabs at the Washington Nationals baseball team. The spirited banter between the two Georgia musicians and the audience was delightful; setting a light, easy-going tone to what felt more like attending a super cool house concert.
Both artists have recently released solo albums. Cook’s North Star is his third solo venture and includes collaborations with his Berklee roommate, John Mayer, with Zac Brown serving as executive producer. Lowrey’s self-titled album, produced by Matt Mangano, Clay Cook and Zac Brown, was released this past February to fantastic reviews.
So let’s dig in, shall we? Cook and Lowrey sauntered onto the stage and Cook took a minute to take the cover off of his pedal steel guitar commenting, “sorry-I’m not used to movin’ my own stuff.” He apologized for the late start saying, “sorry about that. We started the show late because your traffic fucking sucks here.” (If you’ve ever driven through DC or Northern Virginia on 95, 495, 395 or 295 you’ll know that’s the God’s-honest truth). Cook and Lowrey took turns singing songs, accompanying each other along the way. “It’s very scientific how we start,” said Cook. Lowrey agreed, “it’s very, very simple.” The duo then played Rock-paper-scissors to see who would start off and Lowrey won. “There’s no set list, it’s pretty simple what we do and it never sucks,” added Cook.
With Cook accompanying on mandolin, Lowrey kicked the night off with “The Problem With Freedom” off his I Confess I Was A Fool album: “’cause the problem with freedom after all, is that no one’s there to catch you when you fall.” Cook took over performing a song [I think is] called “Wildfire” on acoustic guitar with Lowrey on fiddle. The audience was fabulously responsive and loving every minute. “No Good Dreaming Kind” was next with Cook mentioning that they hadn’t played this song on the tour yet. When Cook was prepping for his turn, Lowrey played commentator and calmly noted, “pausing for reflection…tilting head slightly…looking down for emphasis…decided on a song….proceeding with song.” If this was a Sherlock Holmes film, Robert Downey, Jr. would be doing some nifty kung-fu moves next.
The night continued with Cook’s “Lost Generation” and Lowrey’s “All-American”, which is a hilarious tale of stopping in a Texas town for a beer and not looking all-American enough for the townsfolk: “Now I’m about as unpatriotic as anybody here and I pointed out his German beer.” When Lowrey came to the lyric regarding where the bullying pissant’s cowboy hat was made, he paused and the couple behind me shouted, “Spain!” “China!” Lowrey finally said, “China” and the audience cracked up.
Cook then played “Neon”, introducing the popular John Mayer tune as, “this is a song I wrote a long time ago with a rather tall person and a lot of people think it’s a cover, so I’m going to cover my song.” In keeping with the easy-breezey show’s feeling Cook, at one point admits, “I already sang the third verse accidentally, so I’ll sing it again, but I’ll sing it differently. I’ll sing it like Randy Newman,” which he did and acquired a lot of laughs and applause from the crowd.
Cook and Lowrey play well off each other, obviously having a grand ol’ time, which in turn reverberates through to the audience. There’s some fun, cheeky banter about the Washington Nationals and at the end of Lowrey’s song “Barely Getting By” he adds, “mmmm….Bryce Harper,” to the delight of the crowd. “Every time we’ve been here we’ve insulted the home baseball team and you all still keep coming out, so thank you.”
Cook performed the traditional tune “Jesus On The Mainline”, then Lowrey played “December Thirty-One” from his new album. A toe-tapping fiddle tune fired up next, like a hootenanny in a holler, and at that moment it was hard to stay seated. After updating the audience on the Braves and the Phillies scores, Lowrey played a lovely tune he’d written about his next door neighbors, “Roselee and Odes” and I heard a lot of whispers of “I love this song” from the audience. Cook continued with “Falling Over You” and although I didn’t notice, admitted at the end of the tune that he’d messed up. Lowrey joked, “Clay messed up on that last song. To me it’s no big deal….but you went to Berklee.” After a beat, Cook deadpanned, “I didn’t finish. If I’d finished, I’d had gotten those last chords.” Cook told the audience the next song would be Lowrey’s first time trying it out live and that he was really nervous about it. Lowrey then performed a beautiful rendition of The Killers’ “Human”.
There was a pause in the set as Cook told the audience how Lowrey had the best outgoing message on his cell phone. Lowrey had his friend call him and played the message for us, which was a recording of this old blues singer he knew, taking his sweet time telling the caller to leave a message. “My dentist called me recently and he didn’t know what to think.”
Lowrey introduced Cook’s next selection, “Comfortable”, explaining that the first time he’d heard Cook perform this song at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Georgia, he’d only caught the last verse of “I loved you. Grey sweat pants,” so he joked that for a year he’d assumed the song was an ode to leisure wear. As Cook was tinkering with his pedal steel, Lowrey said, “keep doing that,” then went backstage for another beer. Lowrey performed “Colder Weather”, the hit Zac Brown Band tune he co-wrote with Brown, Coy Bowles and Wyatt Durrette. The audience was thrilled and at the end of the song, Cook kidded, “if you keep this up, buddy, you’re gonna have some good songs.” Lowrey told us that when “Colder Weather” was racing up the charts and getting lots of radio airplay, he’d excitedly told his grandfather who calmly replied, “well, I hope it works out for you.”
Cook ended the set with “On Mountain Time”, the title track off his 2011 album. The duo came out for two encores then graciously spent time after the show signing autographs and taking photos with their fans. It was a warm, beautiful Virginia evening when I left Jammin’ Java and I couldn’t help but feel that this show got me, to quote Blackberry Smoke’s Charlie Starr, as high as a Georgia pine and I’m already looking forward to Round 3.