Laura Jane Vincent, Joshua Tell bring folk-music tradition to Test Pattern

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Laura Jane Vincent

She took the stage carrying a glass of water with her, slung the strap of her Taylor over her shoulder and strummed a few simple chords, making sure all was in tune.

She smiled at the thin crowd who made up the audience for the evening, and suddenly, the room came to life. House music muted and her body swayed in soft motion like a lazy tide. The club echoed with her resounding voice as she picked the strings of her guitar. There was something poetic looming in the air; no sold-out crowd for the night, no line of fans or bombardment of voices and music. Simply a woman and her guitar, playing for the few early members of the audience, playing because it seemed like it’s what she loves.

Laura Jane Vincent opened the show on Monday at Test Pattern in Winston-Salem. And while the crowd was sparse, Vincent played and sang just as confidently as she would to a crowded room of raucous fans.

Usually taking the stage with her husband and drummer Dave Tippetts, it was only Vincent performing for the evening. The Moore County-based singer blends a mix of country and folk with a more contemporary style of ballads, powered by a ruggedly angelic voice reminiscent of Janis Joplin and Natalie Merchant, and could easily contest the talents of many popular singers. Though the promotion and crowd lacked for the incredible acts that are not Test Pattern’s usual forte, Vincent’s voice set a mellow, warm tone for the evening, almost hypnotic as she performed her songs.

Vincent’s set contained many tracks from her latest LP . . . for a sweetheart from the south, which was recorded at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, the famed studio whose past clientele include such acts as Widespread Panic, the Avett Brothers, Zac Brown Band and Dawes.

Headlining the show for the night was singer-songwriter Joshua Tell. As the audience expanded only slightly, Tell and bandmates Jamie Velasco on lead guitar and stand-up bassist Pierce Black spread across the stage, settling in to a cool and smooth set.

Originally from Missouri, Tell now resides in Cologne, Germany, performing with his trio across Europe and the United States. The group is currently setting out on a US tour to promote its first record, a self-titled EP, which they released earlier this month.

Tell’s voice drifted above intricate finger-picked melodies in a style that pays homage to Phil Ochs and Mason Jennings, while containing the traditional narrative and story-telling paradigm of Appalachian and Ozark-based folk songs. The trio held a cool façade on stage, adorned in 1950s-style fedoras and worn leather boots as they played under the dim stage lights. Tell blended slow, mesmerizing ballads with upbeat tunes that even the meager crowd couldn’t help but to tap their feet to.

Test Pattern marked Tell’s second US show on his tour, which will cover 14 shows and eight states in just two weeks.

While the musicians for the evening were deserving of a greater audience and better promotion, the artists gave a solid and classy show. With swinging melodies and whiskey-smooth vocals, Joshua Tell is a hopeful talent in a waning tradition of contemporary folk storytellers, one that might just give the genre a much needed revival. And even with lean attendance and a club whose main attractions usually revolve around punk rock and metal shows, Vincent and Tell mark an honorable step for Test Pattern, giving a home to musicians who might otherwise not have a stage to perform.