Nathan Hamilton, Adam Carroll, Cactus Cafe, July 13

Live Shots

Nathan Hamilton, Adam Carroll

Cactus Cafe, July 13

Both Nathan Hamilton and Adam Carroll are Texas singer-songwriters. So are Robert Earl Keen and (formerly) Townes Van Zandt, as well as James McMurtry and Terry Allen. Same goes for Nanci Griffith and Lucinda Williams. In other words, there's plenty of wide-open space in that honorable classification. Thursday night's double bill at the Cactus Cafe was strong proof of the range in country-folk music here in Austin, as newcomer Adam Carroll opened for Sharecropper/Good Medicine Band leader-turned-solo artist Nathan Hamilton. Where Carroll, a small young guy alone with his guitar, played songs that hummed with the fresh perspective and open mind of youth, Hamilton, backed by drums, bass, and electric guitar, churned out tune after hard-wrought tune, building a long and polished set of well-oiled songs. Where Carroll's "Red Bandana Blues" meandered like a creek, Hamilton's "Two Penny Vengeance" forged ahead like a river. For Carroll, who stuck closely to his local debut South of Town, "Fortune Teller Eyes" gave an air of early wisdom, while "Lacy" belied his youth and the untempered sentimentality that often accompanies it. Hamilton, on the other hand, through two long sets, established a serious tone and maintained it, breaking the frowning tension of songs like the eerie "Tuscola" (the title track from his recent solo debut) and the amazing "Spent" only to then spin long jams like "Roots" or the Good Medicine Band nugget "Watertown." If there's one thing the two locals have in common, it's a talent for writing melodies out of time. It's something all great folk artists have in common, the gift of retrieving melodies that have been drifting across our common musical antennae for decades, sometimes centuries. Both Carroll and Hamilton are filters in this sense, though in very different ways. Where Carroll's songs are fresh and bare, lyric and melody rolling together with the momentum of a kid on a bike -- beautifully, effortlessly, and with an overriding innocent joy -- Hamilton's tunes are given heavier-handed treatment, lyric and melody both made taught and tense, uneasy with a sense of drama and history that make their timelessness an urgent one. Carroll joined Hamilton and band for his own "Cane River Blues," and if it wasn't the best musical selection of the evening, it was heartening to see two promising young singer-songwriters with two very different musical paths ahead of them -- paths as open and unending as the famous Texas highway they're bound to write songs about before they're done.

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