Lauren Wahl (photo: Joshua Huver)
On Saturday, August 3, Lauren Wahl & Simply Put left a raw and energetic set on the stage at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. The band celebrated the full-length debut album Field Notes with a standing-room-only show and several guests.
Ironically, Simply Put is hardly that. The band is a rotating cross-section of the Santa Cruz music scene and constantly evolving upward. Beginning as a busking duo with fiddler Mariah Roberts, Simply Put was a personal, free-spirited and fun release for Wahl. But with Roberts’ encouragement, she continued to dig in and go for it.
Not everyone that performed on her spring 2018 release Hello, Baby also performed on Field Notes, and half of the performers on that either have already moved on or are about to do so. But being based in Santa Cruz has its advantages that way in the musical community, and it really showed in the support from the audience at Kuumbwa.
Lauren Wahl & Simply Put began the show with “Whenever You Need To” and “Like The Sun Needs The Day,” A pair of songs from the new album written about her mom and dad, respectively. “Whenever You Need To” started out slow, with Wahl and Roberts on guitar and fiddle and featuring guest vocalist Courtnay Weinberg and Santa Cruz pedal steel guitar legend Patti Maxine. As the song slowly picked up pacing, bassist Zach Latham and drummer Rowan DeCosse-Graves stepped in and gave it some punch. For the second song, Roberts and Maxine sat out while guitarist Marcus Balanky and saxophonist Ryan Navoroli stepped up.
The third song took things back to the 2018 EP with the group’s debut single, “Walk On Water.” Roberts returned to the stage to lend her fiddle, voice and dance moves as the energy picked up onstage. Wahl continued with selections from last year’s EP, moving the band into “Little Sister.” A song about infidelity and confiding in a sibling, Wahl confirmed the song was not autobiographical. The lineup also remained the same.
But the lineup did not last, and for the next track Weinberg returned to the stage, replacing Roberts for “Wide Open.” One of the most exciting parts about this show was the fact that at any given moment you never knew who was going to be on stage for what song. But to save some trouble, it was usually the Dancing Fiddler Roberts hopping on or off stage between songs. And she returned for the next one, titled “Cherokee”.
A gritty Americana anthem, “Cherokee” really breathed some extra life into the room and got people moving. There weren’t any lineup changes before “Dreamer,” another new song from the album, began. Although the song has a slow tempo, the bite of the instruments, and especially the three-part vocal harmonies, were commanding.
There was a brief set break for a 50/50 raffle before the uptempo rhythm of “Yeah You” kicked in. Wahl set down her guitar and picked up a tambourine, freeing up space to move around the stage. “Yeah You” was followed by “Kiss My Lips,” a different kind of love song, more appropriate, say, for a wedding. The fiddler and the saxophonist all dropped out, making lots of room for the soaring pedal steel of Patti Maxine.
The tenth song of the show and nearly an hour into it all, Lauren Wahl & Simply Put played their first of what would be three covers. “Isn’t She Lovely,” the 1977 single from Stevie Wonder’s huge double album Songs in the Key of Life. Maxine left the stage again while Navaroli and Roberts each returned. But the show kept moving and keeping the audience guessing.
The next track was an original, “One More Day.” A somber, yet sincerely hopeful open letter of hope for those who need it. By the end of the track, the room had gotten heavy. But as you do when you bring a room down, you bring them right back up. Simply Put, at the apparent request of Balanky, moved into their second cover of the night. “This one’s a sing-along,” Wahl said, as the familiar kick drum of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” began. Check out footage from the band’s Facebook page below:
Everyone returned to the stage for the rowdy good time of “The Chain” and stuck around for the set closing original “Not On My Side”. A crowd favorite end-of-the-show selection, Wahl really ramps up the vocal section alongside a muddy, yet sharp and groovy lead guitar performance.
For an encore, Lauren Wahl returned to the stage accompanied by her guitar and fiddle, drums, bass and saxophone and additional vocals for the 2018 track “Just Like Me.” Wahl then invited opening act Lindsey Wall and Paul Chronopoulos to the stage with Maxine for the final song of the show. Mazzy Star’s ’90s hit “Fade into You” is a personal favorite cover that each Wahl and Wall play on their own, so they decided to play it together. Sharing vocals by taking turns on verses really allowed the stylistic nuance of each artist shine bright, and each offered a bright contrast to the other.
Opening the show was another Santa Cruz local rising star, Lindsey Wall. The opening set was a fun 45-minute romp through mostly cover songs and a few sparse, though poignant originals. Guitarist Paul Chronopoulos joined Wall onstage, accompanying her with either a guitar or lap steel, depending on the tune.