Round Mountain Towers at Sierra Nights
By Glen Creason
The word unique has well-defined limits. Unique means exactly that and on a Wednesday evening at the always sweet Sierra Nights concert the locals were able to experience musical uniqueness in its closest definition with the amazing Round Mountain. The series is the brainchild of the tasteful Michael Wolf and you would have to search the purple mountains majesty and all the fruited plains to find a group to equal the truly unparalleled brothers-Rothschild who comprise this duo. Both seem to be born musicians whose broad experience has exposed them to a wide variety of musical traditions and instruments. To find on one stage twelve exotic instruments would be astounding but when several are played at once while vocals are being harmonized is just another league of musical ability. Then there are the instruments that include Scottish bagpipes, Bulgarian gaida, a trumpet, acoustic guitar, dobro, accordion, Turkish saz and ney (lutes), flamenco box drum, djembe, bouzouki, mandolin and of course the West African harp, the kora. Brother Char blows a mean horn with one hand while playing the accordion with the other and brother Robby plays sometimes three drums while strumming the harp and telling stories. Mind you, it is not just that they play these instruments but they do it exceedingly well and change on the fly as they go and very often play two or three at once while singing rather complex and emotional lyrics to the songs they have written.
Ah yes, the songs and the singing are special too. Not always right exactly on key or perfect pitch but beautiful and deep in the telling. Yet only off key in the way Lucinda Williams sings the blues or Joanna Newsome croons her lovely stuff. In moments Round Mountain can sound very Simon and Garfunkel and I mean that in the highest sort of compliment but at others they can get way over into Tom Waits territory. The show is all over the place in genre with bluesy romps like the Mississippi Fred McDowell “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” to the Cuban deliciousness of “Tula” to a caffeinated paean to coffee to a blasting bagpipe melody that filled the hall with Hibernian happiness. Still the best of the memorable night were the heartfelt and unashamedly sentimental songs Round Mountain has written for their wives and children or the sadness of parting from the hearts that love them. “Burn It Down,” “Candle in the Willow Tree” and “I Won’t Lose Sight of You” were more poetry than some of the verses on the page when sung in a tight harmony by these young men.
Having the good fortune to sit next the lad’s parents I understand something of the education the kids received since Mom knew every nuance and could sing like a delta blues mama. The folks lead the cheers but the rest of the full house needed little encouragement for the two talented brothers from Santa Fe New Mexico.