Woody Allen’s stamp of approval is pretty much all you need to get my ears to perk up when it comes to a musician. Because as a longtime fan of Allen’s films, it’s not just the stories and his sense of humor that keeps me coming back. It’s the small, nuanced details I’ve come to appreciate most, like his unique use of the film’s score.
A musician himself, Allen has this keen ability to pick exactly the right music to capture the mood on screen. Recently, he’s aimed squarely at the cultural identity of his settings: light-hearted Spanish folk for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” Italian pop for “To Rome With Love” and acoustic guitar by the French-born composer Stephane Wrembel for 2011’s “Midnight in Paris.”
But I’d never considered I might get to see one of these musicians perform live. They either seemed obscure, maybe somebody Allen met while playing clarinet at a New York bar, or just literally out of my reach in another country. So when I read Wrembel was performing the Awendaw Green Loading Dock series this week at the Palmetto Brewery, my Friday night plans were set in stone.
Wrembel is the kind of stripped-down player whose rapid-fire finger work on an acoustic guitar is reminiscent of virtuosos like jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt or Charlie Byrd. And he oozes authenticity: He learned his skills while playing with a collection of musicians in a French Gypsy camp. That little fact itself is beautiful. It’s no wonder Allen sought him out for “Midnight in Paris.”
He mostly tours around the Northeast when he ventures outside the band’s home base of New York, so these shows in the South this week are somewhat rare.
The band has actually played the Awendaw Green at the Sewee Outpost once before, in November 2012. Eddie White, founder of the music project, remembers it well.
“It was a very cold night and it was a non-Wednesday event. And Stephane just had the time of his life. It was a relatively small crowd. But when he got out of his bus, he was just blown away by how organic it was and how we welcomed him in,” he said. “Guys like him want a listening room crowd, so fortunately we have an outdoor listening room and that’s pretty cool.”
Earlier this month, a somewhat reclusive musician in Charleston released a debut album of songs written in his bedroom and recorded in his roommate’s storage unit. In many other cases, those details might make a local band seem too novice to warrant a great deal of attention.
But I have a certain appreciation for the quiet guys in the room. They’re often the ones who have the most interesting things to say. So when I heard about Tyler Bertges, who goes by the appropriately titled moniker Hermit’s Victory, I had to give the self-titled album a good, hard listen.
And what I found was something really interesting, creative and just all-around refreshing for Charleston’s music scene. The songs are subdued, even-keeled, easy-going. Like a less folky version of Bon Iver. There’s a lot of soul here, no doubt highlighted by local producer Ryan Zimmerman’s direction, and polished with some help from local musicians Johnny Delaware and Jenna Desmond.
But what I kept thinking about was how genius and authentic the branding is. The album, released under the local startup label Hearts & Plugs, is billed as a rare work by a guy who doesn’t do a lot of gigging. And that’s a pretty risky image for a local guy. But it works really well. It gives the listener a clear idea of what to expect, without labeling the music with too many square-pegged genres.
Bertges’ voice is muddled with echo effects and often overpowered by electric riffs, which could become annoying for some trying to wean meaning from the lyrics. But for a guy who doesn’t do show-boating, it makes sense.
This might be an unusual parallel, but consider it this way: Kurt Vonnegut could only write about his time spent in a prisoner of war camp if he wrote “Slaughterhouse Five” as a satirical sci-fi novel. That was his shtick, to wear any other identity just wouldn’t suit him or his fans. So in that same vein, I think that’s why it’s OK for Hermit’s Victory to take on this shadowy ethos. My only criticism is that some of the songs can blend together, but even that adds to its sleepy, cohesive flow.
In short, it’s definitely been a positive addition to my coffee-soaked, desk-tethered life recently. A big bravo to the talented young people who made it happen.