Every once in a while something comes along that sneaks under the radar and arrives practically unheralded. In among some big new releases over the last couple of weeks, Live At Cheatham Street Warehouse from William Clark Green is one such thing.
Cheatham Street Warehouse is the kind of venue the word “iconic” was created for. A mecca on the Texas music scene for decades, it was instrumental in the careers of George Strait, Stevie Ray Vaughan and so many others. Founded by Kent Finlay in 1974, it looks like a tin shed by the side of the railway because that’s what it is, but some books shouldn’t be judged by their covers . Finlay created a space and an environment for songwriters to come and hone their craft, something they still do now. Kent himself became a songwriting mentor to many of the artists who performed there over the decades. When Finlay died in 2015, Randy Rogers subsequently bought the venue – a real passing of the baton, since Rogers is another artist to come through Cheatham Street Warehouse.
Before you hear a note, just pause a moment at the cover. It’s a picture of the exterior of the venue. It’s a straightforward concept, really. Except it’s so full of colour, light, shade, contour, atmosphere and character. If album cover art is intended as an introduction to the contents of the album itself, then this is damn near perfect.
The album itself is a masterpiece of capturing a live event. It’s absolutely helped by the band of players Green assembled for the show. Joining WCG regulars Logan Bowers, Josh Serrato, Steven Marcus and Steven Buehler were Austin Davis from the Josh Abbot Band on banjo, and Jody Bartula from Cody Johnson’s band on fiddle and guitar. Based on comments made between songs it doesn’t sound as though they had a huge amount of time to practice, but you would never know. If there are any overdubs here, I can’t hear them. It’s like the highest quality bootleg, straight from the desk.
Green’s previous live album, 2016’s Live At Gruene Hall, documented a full-on, full energy, full band show with songs pretty much as they were on their respective albums. Live At Cheatham Street Warehouse is a different beast altogether. For starters, the warehouse is a much smaller venue than Gruene Hall and lends itself more readily to a more compact sound and setup. If you want and expect the hard rocking, guitar heavy side of William Clark Green you may be disappointed, but if you give this album a fair hearing I’m confident you’ll feel rewarded. As I mentioned previously the venue is historically all about songwriting, and this show is all about the craft of songwriting. Arrangements are stripped back – not all the way to the bare bones, but made more organic, more essential, giving space for the chords, melodies and lyrics to flourish. The result is an evening of utterly captivating songs and performances. It’s steeped in all of that colour, light, shade, contour, atmosphere and character so vivid in the cover art.
The presentation is basically as a one-man songwriter’s round. Green has a spoken introduction to almost each individual song. Most of these, while not lengthy, go beyond the usual, “I wrote this with my buddy, it’s one of my favourites” but wisely steer clear of completely demystifying the creative process. We all like to hear a little of the background and insight but it’s important not to pull the curtain all the way back.
Keen not to repeat what had gone before, WCG has chosen only 3 songs from the Gruene Hall album to also appear on Cheatham Street. Most tracks are deeper album cuts, as Green says at one point, “We’re doing a lot of songs that Kent always thought was good, good songs of mine that weren’t necessarily the most popular”. As such, the album is very much a tribute to Kent and his legacy even if that’s not explicitly stated.
There’s so much craft and, yes, art on display here that it’s difficult to pick standout tracks – the level is so high, there’s nothing that’s head and shoulders above. Hebert Island‘s Goner is one of the songs that really benefits from the more open and relaxed presentation. The arrangement for Remedy, from the Rose Queen album, has a deeper setting to it that befits the darker side of the lyric and makes it all the more sorrowful. Still Think About You, from Ringling Road, was the last song Green wrote with Kent Finaly so it’s absolutely fitting that it should be included. It’s a little looser here, a little less rigid without the piano, the guitars seem to be just a fraction behind the beat and I have to say I favour this version over the studio cut. The rawness of this live performance suits the jagged nature of the lyric. With the rockier aspects of the track stripped aside, She Loves Horses becomes almost a different song as all the romantic imagery has room to breathe. I could go on but there’s not a bad (or even average) song or performance to be found here.
It would be an absolute travesty if Live At Cheatham Street Warehouse were to be lost among the thunder of recent releases by Jason Aldean, Luke Combs, Miranda Lambert, etc. That’s not a judgement or criticism of those artists; there’s room for all. Maybe more a comment on a mainstream that doesn’t know what treasure is, and consequently doesn’t value it. Because make no mistake, this album is a treasure. Take my advice and do your ears – and your heart, and your soul – a favour. Make room to hear this album.
P.S. If you can’t pick up a physical copy, and you don’t use any of the usual music streaming services, WCG has put the whole show onto YouTube so you can watch and listen to it in full. How awesome is that? Here’s the link…
- Hebert Island
- Band Introductions
- Intro to Remedy
- Intro to Drunk Again
- Drunk Again
- Ringling Road
- Intro to Take Me Away
- Take Me Away
- Intro to Let’s Go
- Let’s Go
- Intro to She Loves Horses
- She Loves Horses
- Intro to This Is Us
- This Is Us
- Sweet Amy
- Intro to Hit You Where It Hurts
- Hit You Where It Hurts
- Intro to Drowning
- Intro to Still Think About You
- Still Think About You
- Intro to The Chilli Song
- The Chilli Song
- Intro to She Likes The Beatles
- She Likes The Beatles
Just close your eyes and play the whole thing through from start to finish.
Six Shooter Rating
10 out of 10