Charlie Faye is a Texan on assignment. She's touring the country by way of month-long residencies in ten U..S cities. First came Phoenix, where she recorded a track with Calexico in sunny Tucson. Then there was Los Angeles, a metropolis she admits was not terribly hard to leave.
Portland is Faye's temporary home now, and she's wasted little time attracting local country musicians to beef up her sound. Monday night's happy hour show at Alberta Street Pub featured a handful of special guests, the best of which was Richmond Fontaine's steel guitar wizard Paul Brainard. His eerie echoes—best heard recently on the soundtrack for bandmate and author Willy Vlautin's “Northline”—gave Faye's soft, twangy ballads a weathered, windswept feeling of permanence. You'd never know that Brainard was playing with Faye for the first time.
One of the joys of “Travels With Charlie” is its open-ended nature. People you thought were audience members hopped on stage for a track or two, revealing a knack for rhythm guitar or a birdsong-like solo. Faye's drummer for half of the set was a pick-up form her first Portland show at Mississippi Pizza where she ran the sound board. The build-your-own approach lacked chemistry at times, but what it fell short of in studio crispness it more than made up for in clever collaboration. Portland's country niche is a small, but tight, one and Faye is already tapped in.
The core of Charlie Faye is shared by her musical sidekick Will Sexton. His wispy, reverb-ridden guitar effects give Faye's acoustic guitar and velvety vocals a rugged, leathery kick. Without Sexton, Faye's songs might be too upbeat for the raw, pastoral country of old. Their relationship on stage is full of opposing forces and suspense. While Faye belts brightly over her bashful guitar, Sexton drowns her innocence with a weeping, half-submerged electric guitar and gravely backup vocals. You can't have country without thunder and lightning (literally says Garth Brooks, figuratively says everybody else) and Sexton provides that.
Josh Harty— a golden-voiced songwriter out of Madison, Wisc.—opened the early evening show. His set was barebones, outfitted with his trusty guitar, quick fingers and propensity for stomping along in time. He sang with dizzying inflection about the things country musicians muse on most: booze, women, suicide. Whereas Faye thrives in company, Harty bears a fragility best served alone.
Meanwhile, the next stop for Charlie Faye is Colorado—but not before a few more porch-top jams with like-minded Portland artists.