Live Review: Dillon Vanders

Dillon Vanders

Alex’s Bar  Long Beach, CA

Contact: [email protected]

Web: dillonvandersmusic.com

Players: Dillon Vanders, vocals, guitar; Heather Sommerhauser, backing vocals; Alyssandra Nighswonger, backing vocals

Material: Sandwiched between two other, very different, country artists on a night of country music in Long Beach is Dillon Vanders, an artist who soaked up the sounds of Simon & Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell early on before turning to Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins. That classic songwriter approach is overt in songs such as the opening “The Road Ahead” in Long Beach; genre is at the background and the lyrics and melody come first. That said, Vanders’ vibe is undeniably country/Americana highlighted beautifully on songs such as “Healing Touch” and “Truth and Lies.”

Musicianship: Vanders is an accomplished guitarist who doesn’t overplay. He knows how to use his instrument to enhance the song, to frame it and to make tunes like “For Peat’s Sake” and “Racing in Circles” shine. On his website, he says that the aforementioned “The Road Ahead” is influenced by Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York,” and that comes across, partly thanks to the harmonies created by backing singers Heather Sommerhauser and Alyssandra Nighswonger. The three voices and guitar work beautifully together, the tones blending seamlessly and allowing a song such as “Russian River Blues” to soar.

Performance: Vanders isn’t one to jump about the stage. He’s not a showman in the classic sense at all, in fact. He stands center stage, Sommerhauser and Nighswonger behind him like nightclub chanteuses, and just plays and sings. There’s authenticity in the simplicity. All of the focus is on the songs, and that works massively to Vanders’ advantage. There’s life in his eyes, signs of experience—of joy and of heartbreak. As such, the songs feel intensely human. He’s here, in the right now, pouring his heart out for the entertainment of Long Beach punters. It all just works.

Summary: Vanders’ debut album Wildfires was released on April 8, and his website describes it as having “much to appeal to fans of ‘70s-era country-pop, with Vanders’ palatable, dulcet voice offering just the right amount of rasp and a tip of the hat to Graham Nash and, at times, Chris Hillman.” That just about hits the nail on the head. At this show, the Laurel Canyon ‘60s vibe blended with some southern dust to create the perfect California country sound, and it’ll be exciting to see where his career goes from here. We’ll start by checking out Wildfires.