The Red River live and “Little Songs About the Big Picture”

It’s rainy and gray in Savannah this morning. I slept in, eventually got up, fixed coffee and eggs. Fed the cats. Opened the doors since it’s warmer outside than in.

A perfect time for listening to Little Songs About the Big Picture by The Red River, who played last night at The Wormhole just a few blocks down the street from my 1870s cottage. On a day like this, it’s obviously easy to relate to gorgeous songs like “Morning Routine”: “It’s the little things I’m gonna miss when I can’t find them.”

Musician Dare Dukes, who along with his band the Blackstock Collection did a great set after The Red River, told me weeks ago that I needed to check them out. I managed a few listens online, posted the video below from NPR, and made a mention in my Savannah Morning News column on Thursday.

But I wasn’t prepared at all for the sheer quality of their live show. (It was the first time, btw, that I realized what a great listening room atmosphere The Wormhole can create.) Sometimes The Red River, which has a large number of loosely rotating members, plays with as many as 10 performers, but there were only five for last night’s show. So no horns, no orchestral arrangements, just a couple guitars, a bass, keys, and drums. And of course Bill Roberts’ clear, transparent, evocative vocals, supported by all the rest of the band, each of whom seems a quality vocalist on his or her own.

I’m old enough to remember the constant refrain of an older generation that never really accepted rock & roll: “You can’t understand what they’re saying.” Well, no one could have said that about The Red River, where the lyrics and vocals are never lost in the mix — Roberts must have had some good teachers who emphasized enunciation. It’s a beautiful thing.

Check out the clarity here in “When We Are Wild”:

Or here in The Red River’s Tiny Desk Concert on NPR:

No wonder NPR’s Bob Boilen chose Little Songs About the Big Picture as one of the top 9 albums of 2010.

The Red River began their set last night with an a cappella version of “Milk n Honey”, the first song on the NPR video above. Live, and with even fewer members, the song was even more compelling. The rest of the strong set included such slower moments but also plenty of straight-up rock. The Red River can obviously go in infinite musical directions from here, but it seems to this new listener the future work should head a little less toward the band’s sometimes ethereal pop and a little more to American roots music.

Whatever the sound, I hope The Red River comes back this way regularly.