No genre left behind

Joe Craven and friends liven up Chico Women’s Club

Musical chameleon Joe Craven.

Musical chameleon Joe Craven.

Photo by John Domogma

Joe Craven & the Sometimers, with Hannah Jane Kile, presented by KZFR Friday, March 4, Chico Women’s Club.

Joe Craven joyously treads a meandering musical pathway that weaves between the realms of jester, troubadour, shaman, elf and kindly, twinkly eyed teacher. In person, Craven’s jauntily upturned mustache and nifty beard, broad-brimmed straw chapeau, embroidered vest, multicolored polka-dot pants, and ultra-expressive face and body language manifest a fun-filled physical awareness. Craven and his Sometimers bandmates, Bruce MacMillan (guitars, Dobro, lap steel, vocals) and Jonathan Stoyanoff (standup and electric bass, vocals), have just released Blender, a set of—as the band’s page describes—“irreverent, yet tasteful acoustic reinterpretations of compositions and styles from the last several hundred years.”

During Saturday’s concert at the Chico Women’s Club, the band brought those recordings to exuberant life, much to the delight of a capacity audience, several members of which had a hard time staying in their seats once the music picked up. The band took the stage with a friendly, enthusiastically received greeting from Craven and opened with a rousing rendition of Joe South’s judge-not anthem, “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” with its admonitory refrain, “Before you abuse, criticize and accuse/walk a mile in my shoes,” reminding us that walking a crooked mile is made all the more enjoyable by remaining open-minded.

Craven, who has shared stages with such luminaries of psychedelicized American music as David Grisman, Jerry Garcia and David Lindley, is no glory hog and he gave his bandmates plenty of room to deliver equal shares of musical finesse. MacMillan switched from Dobro to guitar and took over lead vocal for a soulful, bluegrass-via-Venice rendition of The Supremes’ classic, “Stop! In the Name of Love,” that Craven embellished with shimmering mandolin strumming while Stoyanoff held down the bottom end with a bass groove worthy of Motown’s immortal James Jamerson.

And “with a little help from technology” via Craven’s electronically looped percussion and human beatbox, Stoyanoff’s vocal showcase piece, The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” became a surprisingly jazzy, exotica-infused number that freshly conveyed the motivational poignancy of the original lyric and melody.

There were far too many highlights in the nearly two hours of music in the Sometimers’ two sets to try to describe here, but their rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm,” which began with another demonstration of Craven’s human-beatbox prowess and featured a moody, growling steel guitar intro by MacMillan, hit a definite peak of musical energy that inspired many in attendance to act out the song’s title. By the encore of “I Hear You Knockin’,” a line of dancers had snaked its way through every aisle from the back of house to the front of the stage.

All of that energy didn’t happen without some priming. Opening the show was Americana prodigy Hannah Jane Kile. With musical cohorts Barry Prior (electric and upright bass, backup vocals) and Corey Morgan Strange (cajon, drum kit, banjo, backup vocals), the trio filled the hall with a set of soulful, blues-tinged Kile originals and rollicking interpretations of classics such as Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher,” which won over the audience and evoked a justifiably sincere standing ovation.

If you regret missing this show, you might want to check out Craven’s next local appearance at what he called “the perfect place to find me,” the California Nut Festival, April 16, at Patrick Ranch in Durham.