KS#35: The Toughcats, The Vespers


Larger than life is an oft(over)-used expression, and considering the tight quarters we're already dealing with at the K.S. house, it hardly seems applicable to a 3-piece band whose drum-kit consisted of a duct-taped suitcase, and yet it feels like the most appropriate one once you've borne witness to The Toughcats.  The amount of energy that pours forth from singer (and suitcase virtuoso) Jake Greenlaw puts amphetamine junkies to shame and probably made his kindergarten teacher weep with weariness.  His unassuming, New England demeanor immediately gives way as he steps into the limelight and a ferocious bark, revealing his inner combustion engine, fueled by rhythm, melody, and life, breaks forth from his chest, at first startling, but quickly soothing all those present.  His seismic shouts are snapshotted toward the end of this track, but what we really get to see is the amazing way the is able to form an intense melody chain of blithe harmonies, punctuated with syncopated, percussive beats, literally and figuratively.  Guitarist Joe Nelson strums and croons a hypnotic, driving and yet not overwhelming tune, which Greenlaw picks up and embellishes, both playing the same steel guitar simultaneously, until Colin Gulley (banjoist, mostly) joins in with some homegrown hambone, and all three blend perfectly, in a seemingly impossibly serene melody, linking musically and physically, to bring it all together, superbly captured in this video.


Upon first glance, The Vespers appear to be in no way capable of possessing the force of musicality that they do.  They seem, at best, young and erstwhile, but too young and green to be able to channel any real import; fortunately, most things are not as they first seem.

Callie Cryar is a pretty, slight gal, but her vocals are like a well-trained gospel haint, welling up out of the Delta clay after years of suppression and simply wailing their way into the very depths of your soul.  Her sister, Phoebe Cryar, who sings and plays a multitude of instruments as well, is no shrinking violet either, even if the duo are as purdy as a pair.  The foursome, including brothers Bruno & Taylor Jones, hail from Tennessee and call to mind some kind of spiritual revivalist group, but the kind that worships tympanic percussions, pedal steel rhythms, and howling, bluesy melodies.  Best part?  Their sound is no mimicry, no phoning-in of someone else's sound, echoed, once-remembered, or otherwise; sure, they've done their musical homework, but what they're throwing down is a gypsy, gospel, blues vibe all their own.

In "Grinning in Your Face," Callie Cryar's vocal tremble and sear your soul, so much so that she completely mesmerized and silenced the full-house in attendance, all huddled and awed by her intensity.  However, you've got to try and not get lost in her siren song, lest you miss the precision and holy backing wall of sound accompaniment provided by her sister and the brothers Jones, Bruno on resonator guitar, and Taylor, vocally and percussively.

"Lawdy" really showcases what The Vespers do best:  take a seemingly simple melody and turn it into a voodoo trip cast by a witchy woman with one eye, as many teeth, and an axe to grind, but who manages to find salvation at the end of her struggle.  The instrumental talent and the musical creativity of The Vespers makes their choice of name beyond clear.

 -Abigail Gnall