With an ease and confidence most likely born during his busker days, an unplugged Peter Case dove into “Travellin’ Light” and fed off the rapt attention of the 75 people crowded into the living room at Pine Hill Farm. Four songs later, when he again reached back to 1989′s Blue Guitar for the poignant character study “Poor Old Tom”, he told the story with different vocal styles (lapsing into a near-talking blues at one point) and sold it with the kind of eye contact that house concerts afford. This early, there already were unspoken doubts about whether the small clearing in front of the fireplace could hold an untethered Case for the duration of the show. Sure enough, the confinement finally proved too much for Case, and he roamed the crowd during a first-encore reading of “Beyond The Blues”, making it all the way to the back of the room.
Between those initial intimate exchanges and that moment when the already-paper-thin wall between artist and crowd gave up the ghost, there was plenty more to appreciate. Case sifted through his deep catalog of blues-influenced folk-rock songs, sharing at least one cut from all seven of his releases. “Icewater” from his self-titled debut was a particularly inspired and well-received choice, as was the epic “Two Heroes” from last year’s Flying Saucer Blues.
But Case was also of a wandering mind, and both sets featured a three-tune run of covers. Near the end of the first set, Townes Van Zandt’s “Ain’t Leavin’ Your Love” gave way to Sleepy John Estes’ “Someday Baby Blues” and the yodel-packed “Ginseng Blues”, a 1920s obscurity by way of the Kentucky Ramblers. (“I played it for Mike Seeger, and he didn’t know it,” Case offered. “So it’s pretty rare”.)
Midway through the second set, Case honored a request for Bob Dylan’s “To Ramona”, following it with “One Of These Days” (which most folks seemed to know from Emmylou Harris’ Elite Hotel) – and “Walkin’ Bum”, introduced as “something from one of my favorite cave-dwelling country singers, David Allan Coe.”
Providing expert accompaniment all night, as well as a both a Mexican and Irish jig while Case changed a string, was violinist David Perales. The exchanges between Case and Perales fit the living-room mood perfectly. (Case: “What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?” Perales: “For me, about three beers.”)
And, as always, one song that had passed by virtually unnoticed on numerous album spins positively glowed in Pine Hill Farm’s track lighting. This night it was Case’s ode to “the spiritual side of being shit-faced drunk,” titled “Drunkard’s Harmony”, all off-center melody, train-whistle harmonica, and moody lines about Sputnik skies. Whether you’re standing on a street corner or sitting on a rented folding chair, you can’t beat music that’s delivered from a whites-of-their-eyes distance.