By Mike O’Cull
Roots guitar and lap steel hero Damon Fowler wows us all with tunes, tones, and talent on his new in-concert release Live at the Palladium.
Set to drop January 20th, 2023 on Landslide Records, the record is Fowler’s ninth solo effort and was captured live in front of a revved-up crowd. It all went down on Fowler’s native Florida turf, in the city of St. Petersburg. Those assembled were treated to a performance by one of today’s finest and most nuanced guitarists and songwriters backed by a high-octane band. The live recording was produced by Fowler and George Harris and delivers the same experience to all of us who couldn’t make the gig.
Damon Fowler is a complex, multifaceted musician who does a lot more than just stand up and blast out guitar solos. His guitar work and songwriting connect blues, country, funk, Americana, and storytelling in a vivid and personal way that obliterates genre lines as needed. His lap steel playing is soaring and dynamic, adding its own entire level to his coolness, and his vocals are honest and engaging.
When you hear it all come together live, as on this release, you’ll realize that Fowler is one of the players creating the future of American music in front of us all in real time. Accompanied by his regular road band of Justin Headley (drums) and Chuck Riley (bass) and special guests Jason Ricci (harmonica), Eddie Wright (guitar), and Dan Signor (keyboards), Fowler is in his element and unforgettable. This was one of those magic nights musicians and fans live for and it’s a blessing that it was preserved for future generations.
After a brief introduction, DF and friends hit the stage. Fowler rips off a few sweet guitar licks alone then leads the band into the swampy funk of “It Came Out Of Nowhere.” The groove is laidback but heavily funky and provides the perfect beginning to a jam-loaded show. Fowler puts down some tight rhythm work while singing then dives headlong into one of his inventive and colorful solos. Dan Signor shines on piano here, too, and does a lot to open up the energy of the song.
“The Guitar” is one of Fowler’s most impressive creations and an example of just how vast his range gets. It’s a talking blues/spoken word story song that tells a first-hand tale of having a sword-from-the-stone experience with a beat-up old guitar in a dusty, forgotten pawn shop. Damon lays it out over a crisp, minor groove and also adds the appropriate amount of guitar mastery. We won’t spoil the ending for you but it does get a little ghostly. It’s a brilliant, dramatic piece of performance art the likes of which you won’t encounter in too many other places. If you remember one song from this record, it’ll be this one.
Fowler heads back into swamp rock territory with the hypnotic “I’ve Been Low.” Justin Headley’s drum beat drives the song hard, keeping the band and crowd lit up. Fowler’s overdriven guitar tone is a thing of beauty, full of sparkle and bloom. The band pushes this one over the edge into an almost free-form improv section before taking things back home that’s exciting and unpredictable. This is why we love live music.
When it comes time for the real blues, Fowler breaks out with the slow and lowdown “Taxman.” Jason Ricci injects his mighty harmonica into the sparse arrangement and shines brightly. Fowler follows on guitar and also sings passionately throughout this story of IRS devastation. The whole thing is all vibe and you’re going to feast on it.
This night was magic from end to end and the best way to consume it is to put it on and let it blast. Be sure not to miss “Fruit Stand Lady” and “Old Fools, Bar Stools, and Me.” Fowler and his band are able to go from scream to whisper and back again with the style and grace of giants and that makes Live at the Palladium one of 2023’s first must-have albums.
Pre-order Live At The Palladium Here
Damon Fowler website