Material: Rustic Union is an acoustic-based rock and Americana-flavored act. They feature a familiar and seamless blend of classic covers and original songs that pair together quite well. Country rock standards like John Denver’s “Country Roads” and CSN&Y’s “Teach Your Children” align perfectly with Rustic Union fare like the Byrds-ian “Take My Hand” and the spirited “Fly Me Away.” Select tunes even get a fresh renovation such as the bluegrass-tinged, fiddle-fueled take on the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”
Musicianship: Mike Leavitt is a highly skilled singer-songwriter and guitarist equally adept on 6- and 12-string. His vocals are deep and robust, interweaving effortlessly with the ethereal Jaime Omera McDermott. This is certainly their strong suit as Leavitt and McDermott harmonize in almost a stream-of-conscious manner. Both Jacob Gibson and Jennifer Hall are technically side players, but their contributions to this performance are undoubtedly essential. Gibson is a unique talent utilizing vocal beat boxing in more of a traditional percussive manner. He also doubles on Djembe rounding out his ample skill set. Violinist Hall provides vivid color and billowy textures that effectively complement the ebb and flow of each song.
Performance: “Relaxed,” is probably the adjective that best describes Rustic Union’s stylistic aura and demeanor. Transitions from song to song were friendly and engaging. There wasn’t a whole lot of down time on stage and Leavitt did some nice set-ups, particularly on the original tunes, where he would share some background on the motivations behind the music. The room was pretty vast, abuzz with a fair amount of chatter and revolving traffic. But the band remained undaunted, effectively reading the crowd and pacing their set accordingly.
Summary: Rustic Union is probably one of the best vocal duos this reviewer has heard in quite awhile. Their strength surely comes from time-intensive hours devoted to crafting the songs and honing a signature sound. But it would be nice to get a glimpse into Leavitt and McDermott as individuals. The music and concept is certainly there. Now it’s time to loosen up as performers and personalities and embrace the spotlight. The audience will appreciate that fact and come along for the ride.
The Players: Mike Leavitt, acoustic guitars, vocals; Jaime Omera McDermott, vocals; Jacob Gibson, vocal beat boxing, percussion; Jennifer Hall, violin.
Photo by Eric A. Harabadian