by Jordan Green
Crystal Bright emerged from the seclusion of her downtown Reidsville loft, where she has been writing songs for a new album, and brought her band the Silver Hands to the Tavern at Ziggy’s in Winston-Salem for a rare concert last Saturday.
The life of a musician — particularly one as talented and ambitious as Bright — is both intensely social as a matter of enacting the ritualistic joy of performance and connecting with an audience, and also lonesome. The creative demands of writing material, arranging songs, rehearsing and recording require something akin to a vow of poverty.
She doesn’t make it to Greensboro, from whence she launched her burgeoning music career about four years ago, very often these days. But Bright’s profile should steadily rise this year, with a return booking at FloydFest and growing popularity at steampunk conventions.
She inaugurated one number from her forthcoming album, a song inspired by Sherlock Holmes that meditates on the illusory nature of reality, at Ziggy’s on March 1. It seemed of a piece with her body of work, amassed over three albums including a live recording. Which was fine, considering that her repertoire is fantastic, explosive and positively shamanic in its rhythmic catharsis.
The audience at Ziggy’s, whether committed fans or previously unexposed to her work, was in the artist’s hand. Members of Bare the Traveler, who played the preceding set, enthusiastically received Bright and her band.
For the uninitiated, a Crystal Bright concert is a revelation. With an educational background in anthropology and ethnomusicology, Bright’s music bypasses the conventions of Anglo-American folk music altogether. Traveling the world to soak up various musical traditions, including that of the Romani people in Spain, Bright improbably found the inspiration in Greensboro to fuse them into her singular vision, wedded to folkloric lyricism. A Gypsy carnival comes closest to capturing the feel of Bright’s music, but it ranges across the world map in instrumentation, sensibility and texture. At other moments, Crystal Bright & the Silver Hands like a shimmering Eastern European swing band yoke to a residency in, say, a bar in Tijuana.
The most standard instrument of accompaniment in Bright’s collection is the piano, but she’s as likely to be playing the accordion, concertina or musical saw, often within the same song. She might pluck out a delicate melody on the adungo, a Ugandan harp, one moment, and the next assail a Japanese taiko drum in an explosion of bombast.
The Silver Hands are integral to Bright’s sound. Diego Diaz’s work on nylon, electric and lap-steel guitars provides texture as opposed to groove. At certain times, both Diaz’s lap-steel playing and Bright’s singing mimic a theremin-like wail, making it difficult to distinguish between the two.
During her March 1 concert at Ziggy’s Bright interacted most with stand-up bassist Aaron Bond, one of two players who alternate in low-end duties for the Silver Hands. Bond picked up Bright’s cues on a dime, running down a ridiculous series of notes. He made his instrument growl to dramatize the peril in Bright’s folktale lyrics. He bowed it to produce a howling complement to her ethereal wail. He crouched like a wolf ready to spring into the climax of the songs.
Seth Oldham plays the drums with padded sticks, adding power without overwhelming the subtle interplay among the other players. Throughout much of the set he resembled a man in the throes of a ceremonial sweat.
Deploying a powerful voice with a trickster sensibility, Bright proved with the help of her excellent band that a carnivalesque sound can reach into the heart of the human experience.
Crystal Bright & the Silver Hands play the Blind Tiger, located at 1819 Spring Garden St. in Greensboro, with Quilla on Saturday.