Every third Sunday of each month since 2013, SubCat Music Studios in Syracuse hosts their Sub Rosa Sessions. Session #41 on July 16, 2017 was hosted by Amanda Rogers, who invited Mike Powell to perform as the featured artist. These evenings consist of thirty or so people joining the performers in Studio A at SubCat. The entire session is recorded, attendees have a meet and greet afterward and enjoy drinks and snacks before they head home with an exclusive CD copy of the performance. The intimate setting in a first class recording/production studio provides a unique experience for the listeners and the musicians as well. Much of the stage banter was cut to allow for as many songs as possible to make it to the final disc, but it was that banter that helped connect the audience to Rogers and Powell.
Amanda Rogers performed original songs on a singularly decorated Yamaha keyboard. Her vocals ranged from whispered words to powerful jabs at her lyrics. The setting was perfect for Rogers, as her songwriting deserves to be carefully heard, not ignored as background music, as other solo artists sometimes experience in local clubs and taverns. Rogers began with “Bag of Bones” and “Blue,” the latter from her upcoming release Heavy Blue, currently being mastered at SubCat. She joked that her on the spot setlist might end up in alphabetical order. Rogers made that idea more difficult when she followed up with “Walking,” from her most recent recording, the 2014 double album Wild. A highlight of her set was “Stranger Days,” in which Rogers croons, “I’ve got scary visions, I’ve got deep, dark decisions, I’ve got stranger days up ahead. And I ain’t no gypsy rambler, ain’t no homecoming queen, I’ve still got aching for my twenties, I could’ve been stuck there in between. I want to face these stranger days I got coming, but…my mind’s still running.”
Mike Powell took the stage in front of about three dozen fans, friends, family members, and studio employees who were treated to the first ever Sub Rosa Sessions pre-show parking lot tailgate party, hosted by the ubiquitous Sue and Larry Powell. Powell appeared with his familiar right-hand man, guitarist John Hanus, also a member of Powell’s recently formed full band project The Black River, whose debut album is expected to be released later this year from Rising Feather. Hanus supplemented Powell’s songs with melodic riffs, accent notes, and slide guitar stylings on his well-worn Fender Telecaster. Powell began the evening playing an enormous orange Gretsch guitar with Bigsby vibrato, later switching to a resonator guitar, before finishing his set with a red, white, and blue Harmony Buck Owens American model acoustic guitar that seemed fitting for Powell’s masterpiece tribute to a fallen serviceman, “21 Rounds.” It is easily Powell’s best known song, and those in attendance are now the only ones who have that song recorded on CD.
Powell spoke of the tendency as a songwriter to like your latest songs the best, offering one of his newest tunes, “Poison Diamond,” written during a recent sound check after a conversation with a man who said his relationship troubles were because a woman “loves me too much.” It depicts Powell’s willingness and capability to find inspiration in a single phrase or moment, and nurture those small embers until they grow into the full flame of a song. He also expressed some unfounded trepidation that a live recording could go wrong if the audience en masse booed at the conclusion of a tune. However, as mentioned, Mike Powell is not an individual who chooses to pass up many opportunities. Thus, he implored the audience to agree to boo lustily at the conclusion of “I Wanna Go Back,” creating a hilarious moment that later caused raucous laughter when Powell and Hanus, (as well as this reviewer,) listened to the live CD on the drive home. Powell’s remarkable songwriting, engaging stage banter and audience rapport came through during the session, and are reflected in the crystal clear quality of the instantly produced CD from SubCat Music Studios.
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Further information on SubCat Music Studios and the Sub Rosa Sessions may be found here.
Amanda Rogers Setlist: Bag of Bones, Blue, Walking, Ha Ha, They’ll Call It Love, Don’t Deny, Stranger Days, Get Your Heart
Mike Powell Setlist: Moonlight Sunshine and Rain, Empire Line, I Wanna Go Back, Bibles and Bourbon, Old Picture Frames, Poison Diamond, The Silver Lining of James Marshall, 21 Rounds Encore: No Horizon