City Slang: Alison Lewis helps celebrate PJ Fest

Thursday night at the Lager House was the first of what has been dubbed “PJ Fest,” with Friday’s bill featuring Ryan Dillaha, Crooked Little Reasons, and Jay Clark Reid.

The Thursday hasn’t got off to the best of starts; Don “Doop” Duprie had to pull out due to issues with his voice. Not to worry - Johnny Salvage has ably stepped in. More on that later.

This is a nice idea. A handful of local musicians want to say thanks to PJ with a shin-dig packed with quality music, in the process hoping to ensure that PJ and the Lager House is around for many years to come. When we spoke to PJ recently, he told us that, “I like doing what I’m doing. Every band has seen me here at 1 a.m. listening to some band from out of town or in town. I don’t see every show or every band, but I see a lot of them. I pay attention to them, and I care about them. In some ways, every single band and musician that plays here is a little business. Yes, their music is their art, but at the same time it’s a little business where they’re trying to get themselves going.”

That’s the spirit that has encouraged these bands to want to help in any little way that they can. First up, Six and the Sevens have very obviously improved dramatically over the past couple of years. Where they used to have a sound that could be described as Sights-lite, the guys have developed and evolved into a really tight and entertaining, Brit-pop influenced band. The tunes are catchy and strong, but the band can add grit when it needs to, something that isn’t necessarily obvious from the recorded output. If this group keeps growing, it could be a real force.

Johnny Salvage is the man tasked with replacing Doop, and he does so remarkable well. This is my first time seeing the guy, and he’s a tremendously impressive songwriter. “Let’s see Doop write a song that fucking good,” he says after the first song, tongue firmly in cheek. That sort of wit, coupled with some genuinely heartfelt acoustic tunes, makes for an entertaining set from the Toledo native (now based here in Detroit).

Alison Lewis is next, and she simply owns the night. Lewis has it all – a throaty, husky voice that is captivating, bordering hypnotic, a gorgeous guitar stroke, and a ton of amazing country-ish tunes. Her performance is so warm; even when her eyes are closed as she croons a few words, there’s a smile sneaking across her cheeks. Lewis plays this venue a lot, she’s as close to a “house band” as the Lager House has. And yet she always entertains, never gets dull. In fact, it’s her “girl next door” demeanor, the look of someone who has just ambled in from her place down the street (she literally has, with her dog in tow), that makes the set so charming.

John Holk & the Sequins has the unenviable task of following Lewis. The band succeeds because the set is so completely different to anything that came before it. Armed with a full band and duel male/female vocals, Holk and his Sequins deliver fairly traditional country with a smile and a sly wink. The songs are fun, both the originals and the covers, and the band is tight.

Throughout the whole evening, PJ was smiling.

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