Concert Review: John Fullbright with Sam Doores + Riley Downing & The Tumbleweeds at Jammin’ Java

Juli Thanki | June 21st, 2013

If you get the chance to see John Fullbright on tour this summer, don’t pass it up, because it’ll probably be the last time he plays such small venues. The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter captivated a Wednesday night crowd at Jammin’ Java, a gem of a club hidden in a strip mall in the D.C. suburbs.

Kicking off his 90-minute performance with the bluesy “Gawd Above,” Fullbright alternated between guitar and piano throughout the night, punctuating his set with a handful of well-chosen covers, from Sam Cooke’s “I’m So Glad (Trouble Don’t Last Always)”—a song Fullbright recorded for an Oklahoma tornado relief project—to Dan Bern’s stunning “After the Parade is Over.” He was backed with a sharp three-piece band that got to show off their versatility as Fullbright went from ragged ballads like “Jericho” to a soulful take on “Hesitation Blues” to “Fat Man,” a folky tune so eerie, Fullbright joked, that writing the first half of the song creeped him out enough to kill off the song’s titular figure.

Opening for Fullbright were Sam Doores + Riley Downing & The Tumbleweeds, an up-and-coming Americana act from New Orleans.  The band name may be a bit unwieldy, but their 40-minute set was tight; Most of their set list came from their solid debut album, Holy Cross Blues, which was released last fall, but the best moments came when they deviated from the record. Percussionist Cameron Snyder played one of his original songs, “Low Down Soul,” an Ernest Tubb-influenced country weeper, that was one of the highlights of the night, as was the Dave Dudley-esque “Less Honkin’, More Tonkin’,” a crowd favorite that’s perfect for a city where the daily commute is regularly voted one of the worst in the nation.

The Tumbleweeds returned to the stage to join Fullbright for an encore that—though it didn’t show a lot of promise at the beginning, with a goofy version of Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs’ “Stay” that fell apart after the first chorus—quickly picked up, thanks to a raucous, extended cover of “Can Your Monkey Do the Dog,” a song Rufus Thomas cut for Stax in the mid-1960s. With Fullbright at the keyboard channeling Jerry Lee Lewis and The Tumbleweeds serving up their dusty, alt-country sound, it was the perfect ending for a night of genre-blending music.

  1. nm
    June 21, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    I heard John Fullbright play in Nashville recently. He was astoundingly good. I couldn’t believe the variety of sounds he got out of such a small band, and he put together a set that was all over the place in a good way. A talent to watch, I’m sure.

    (Sadly, his opening act here, some local artist whose name I already forget, was fairly lousy.)

  2. Rick
    June 21, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Among the two videos above I much prefer the sound of Sam + Riley and the Tumbleweeds over John Fullbright. Maybe it has something to do with how much I dislike that “Gawd Above” song of his. Grammy Shmammy, I don’t get what the fuss is about…

    The SRT group on the other hand sounds kinda like OCMS on quaaludes, which is much more to my liking. Might have to check out some of their tunes online.

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