The curse of the Wailers

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Bonnie Allyn with Rodney Owens at the Green Bean

by Jordan Green

One of the perils of taking a band on the road is that you might wind up getting booked against one of the greatest live acts of all time.

With the same odds of lightning striking the same place twice, it happened in Greensboro on June 14. While This Frontier Needs Heroes played for a pay-what-you-can cover — essentially cash to cover a hotel room and gas money to get to Durham for the next night’s gig — at the Green Bean, Rocco Scarfone was throwing a free concert with the Wailers, Bob Marley’s backing group, across the street in the parking lot at Ham’s.

Amazingly, it wasn’t the first time the two bands had crossed paths.

The Wailers headlined the main stage at a festival in northern England and This Frontier Needs Heroes was booked to play a smaller stage at the same time, guitarist-singer Brad Lauretti recounted at the Green Bean. The members of This Frontier Needs Heroes didn’t even realize that they’d been booked with the other band until they bumped into them in a dining hall.

On June 14, as the Wailers erupted into “Is This Love,” the thousands-strong mass in the parking lot of Ham’s burst forth with an ecstatic manifestation of cell-phone selfies. Soon after, the familiar sonorous bass, wah-wah guitar and comforting organ of “No Woman No Cry” provided a credible facsimile of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ legendary 1975 Live album.

Nostalgia aside, it was that rare quantity in live music today — a mass communal experience. The vibe continued for an amorous sing-along with “Three Little Birds.”

Across the street, Bonnie Allyn, who opened for This Frontier Needs Heroes, was happily toiling in obscurity. You can be forgiven if her name doesn’t ring a bell. Her voice is an exquisite instrument that suggests the early-’70s folk-soul of acts like Joni Mitchell or Carol King. A songwriter with a knack for jazzy phrasing and a free-spirited and strong sensibility, Allyn was active in the scene around Cincinnati in the mid-’90s.

She gave up performing professionally when she moved with her husband to take up organic farming near Badin Lake in North Carolina. Her hiatus transpired more for lack of collaborators than personal interest. But in 2013 she met Gene Hutchens, who recorded her fine, new August Moon album at Warehouse Wired Studios in Trinity. She met Rodney Owen, a High Point bass player, at a singer-songwriter showcase and recruited him to play with her. The three are rehearsing regularly now and booking periodic gigs.

Allyn and her co-conspirators moved through her compelling repertoire: the simple, affecting “Rescue Me” evoking the emotional surrender of a personal bottoming out; the delightful lyricism of “Sweet Summer” (“Cut-off T-shirts and a pair of sneakers/ Meeting new friends in the back of the bleachers/ Eyes glance from head to toes/ Well, it’s summer time and anything goes”); and the cautionary urban sensibility of “Sugar,” a song that but for its acoustic instrumentation wouldn’t be out of place in an early ’70s Blaxploitation film.

Younger, hipper and less influenced by jazz and blues than Allyn, This Frontier Needs Heroes’ music is a deceptive nugget of Americana, its lustrous qualities more evident once the dirt is brushed off. Songs like “George Clooney” and “Lonely Swedish Girl” revealed a band more interested in the process of compiling authentic experience than attaining conventional success.

The male and female voices in This Frontier Needs Heroes (primarily Brad Lauretti and Jessica Lauretti, but also Sadie Frederick) melded in a fashion that recalled the erstwhile Everybodyfields with Jessica and Sadie’s voices floating ethereally above the loamy foundation laid by Brad.

The band rocked in a restrained manner that suggests the Band backing Bob Dylan during his Planet Waves phase. Some of the songs featured guitar solos in tight bursts of wild psychedelia by Brad Lauretti. The drums, played by David Rogers-Berry, magnified the tremolo guitar, making the whole sound larger than life. At risk of venturing an overwrought music writer’s formulation, it was as if, after recording “King of the Road,” Roger Miller started hanging out with Roky Erickson and taking mescaline, and then secured Phil Spector’s production services.

Several people wandered into the Green Bean from the Wailers’ concert to get cash from the ATM, and a bachelorette party made a brief appearance. For the dozen or so people who stuck around, This Frontier Needs Heroes’ set was a revelation.

“We are quality,” Bonnie Allyn shouted from the audience, “not quantity.”