A year is a long time to be away from home. Perhaps that’s why the Gloria Darlings looked so happy Wednesday night as they banged out a rowdy set at the Tractor Tavern.
It’s been a busy 12 months for the Darlings. They made a giant loop touring the country, including extended stops in Nashville and New Orleans. The Darlings also took time to record “Come Home to Me,” a bright collection of bluegrass tunes that you might not call traditional but are certainly not far off.
The Darlings showcased these 11 songs as they celebrated the album’s release, officially out Wednesday but available on Spotify for some time before that. The record is great, but it just doesn’t compare to hearing these songs come to life on stage. Bluegrass deserves to be played in front of a packed house.
The Tractor crowd, which swelled impressively for a Wednesday night, couldn’t help but dance as the Darlings — Melissa Jane Pandiani on vocals and guitar, and fiddler, mandolin player and singer Amelia Boksenbaum — tore through over an hour of mostly original material.
The duo with help from stand-up bass player Ben Fox got the night started off with a nice cover of Ray Price’s “You Done Me Wrong.”
They immediately showcased their impressive songwriting on the title track from “Come Home to Me,” a sweet love song that benefited from the intertwining harmonies of Pandiani and Boksenbaum, who go by Pandi and Milli on stage.
“Ghost Girl,” one of the album’s more dynamic tracks, translated well live and even elicited a chuckle from Pandiani as she sang, “Just when I resolved that it was over/that a spinster ’til my dying day I’ll be.”
Other highlights included the couple of songs that Boksenbaum sang. Her voice, slightly thin but with a surprising grit to it, worked especially well on “Music Men,” an uptempo song she wrote that featured an opening fiddle riff that once again got the crowd dancing and stomping.
Part of what made Wednesday night special for the Darlings was that they were allowed to choose the bands that joined them on the bill. In an interview on Monday, Pandiani said they tried to choose friends from the tightknit community of Seattle musicians they are a part of, which made the show all the more a homecoming.
The Josh Philpott Band, which on Wednesday consisted of Philpott and Fox on bass, took the stage first. Philpott has a pleasant voice and his country-blues sound worked well as people were still finding their way to the club.
Next up was West Virginia transplant Pepper Proud, who was having her own mini-homecoming after being in Idaho for the past two weeks. She might be diminutive but has a flamethrower for a voice. Think the smokiness of Norah Jones with the ability to absolutely belt when she wants to.
Proud sang most of the cuts off her 2012 album “Riddle & Rhymes,” including the gorgeous, whimsical “Dig.” It’s hard to categorize her sound. She’s not bluegrass or indie folk or alt-country, instead carving out her own space within Seattle’s sonic landscape.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails