by Chance Solem-Pfeifer
In the song “Omaha,” set to a walking piano line in the vein of Marc Cohn, Evan Bartels owns up to his technical deficiencies. But with an immediate alternative suggestion.
“I can’t read every musical note, and no I can’t play every chord.”
Instead, he aims for something more visceral, something he’d like to be felt in the bones of the listener. It’s likely some common, looming feeling that the best years are behind the subcultures of which they’d like to be a part or that they’ve worked their whole lives just for the rough skin on their hands.
And that’s fitting for Bartels. Since relocating to Lincoln from his hometown of Tobias, Nebraska, he’s taken a workman-like approach to performing live. Sometimes with his band The Stoney Lonesomes and often solo, undertaking two-hour or more sets around Lincoln. And if his vocal cords are rubbed raw by the end of the set, well, that’s all the more becoming of his drifting folk songs, never sure where they see their singer headed geographically, and sometimes (as in the song “Poor Boy”) cripplingly uncertain of why he departed in the first place.
And to be perfectly frank, Bartels’ aesthetic loyalties wouldn’t work even half as well if they didn’t come from him. The delivery system for the folk marches is a voice in the tenor of Ryan Bingham, vocals with a kind of shocking sentience, understanding they must be rich to croon the ballads of the poor. Equally on acoustic guitar and harmonica, Bartels brandishes his roots music tools with assurance. He never goes back on his promise that he doesn’t know every chord and aims instead at a mood made whole by all its parts.
You can see him tonight at Duffy’s Tavern with FCC Bros and Handsomer Jaws and Saturday at Barley Street Tavern with Jack Hotel. But right now he joins us live on Hear Nebraska FM. Ladies and gentlemen, here is Evan Bartels.
Chance Solem-Pfeifer is the host of Hear Nebraska FM with Jacob Zlomke. Tune in next Monday at 8 p.m. for a live set with The Talbott Brothers and reach Chance at email@example.com.