North of Houston
Live at 54 Below
Performer: Michael Cerveris & Loose Cattle
Distributed By: Broadway Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
It seems like every time I turn around, I receive another Live at 54 Below concert from Broadway Records. Apparently, the venue books quite a few Broadway stars for concerts at the "Supper Club" and fans of artists like Patti LaPone, Bebe Neuwirth, Aaron Tviet and more reap the benefits of recorded live themed concerts. But this latest album is different. Sure, North of Houston is a concert performed Live at 54 Below and sure it stars a big name in theater, but this album is nothing like the ones I've received in the past.
North of Houston is performed by Michael Cerveris & Loose Cattle. If the name Cerveris sounds familiar, it should - he received a Tony Award for his performance The Who's Tommy and has appeared in a number of Broadway shows, including Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Evita, Assassins and more. He has even made appearances in feature films and on television, most notably on The Fringe. I knew of the actor/theater performer, but had no idea that Cerveris is also a singer with his own band.
Apparently, the band started as a group of friends coming together to have a jam session at a place called Hill County Barbecue under a sign warning people about Loose Livestock. Taking their cue from the sign, they named the band Loose Cattle. Consisting of Michael Cerveris on vocals, acoustic guitar and mandolin; Kimberly Kaye on vocals; Gabriel Caplan on electric guitar; Jon Graboff on pedal steel; Alex Harvey on mandolin and acoustic guitar; Justin Smith on fiddle; Lorenzo Wolff on acoustic and electric bass and sousaphone and Eddy Zweiback on drums and harmonica, the band never expected to be taking their act to the swanky theater district. They certainly could never have expected to do so on the nights after Hurricane Sandy came complete with rising floodwaters and power outages, but somehow, the show went on.
The theme at this venue is country and North of Houston contains some classic country songs like Backwater, Electricity, Gasoline and Matches, Run That By Me One More Time and more. But there are also some contemporary songs performed in a country style like Walking Down the Line and Pinball Wizard. The band even performs a mash-up of country and contemporary with the song Jolene, F**K You, a mix of Dolly Pardon's country track and Cee Lo Green's pop hit that works surprisingly well, unlike the country mix of Pinball Wizard - Pete Townsend must have been cringing. There are also some songs written by Cerveris himself on this album and they aren't half bad.
In fact, I'm surprised to say that the entire North of Houston album is actually rather good. I like country, but never expected this kind of high caliber performance from Michael Cerveris & Loose Cattle. Sure, Cerveris has more than proven he has a talented voice on Broadway, but country? You could never have sold me on that until I listened to North of Houston. The album is really a lot of fun and I enjoyed the tongue in cheek reference to the power outages with the song Electricity, the fun mash-up of country and pop, the hysterical duet on Run That By Me One More Time, the hillbilly sound of Backwater and more. Cerveris and Kaye's vocals blend together quite nicely and the musical prowess of this band is amazing.
To be completely honest, I have not always enjoyed the albums in the Live at 54 Below series. That's why this album in particular comes as such a happy surprise. I have found my favorite album in the series and it is North of Houston. I am now a big Michael Cerveris and Loose Cattle fan and can't wait to hear more from this band!