Jack Hotel: Live on 89.3 KZUM | Hear Nebraska FM

words by Chance Solem-Pfeifer

When Günter Voelker imagines Jack Hotel — a Denis Johnson character from the author’s Jesus’ Son short stories — and the namesake of Voelker’s Lincoln folk band, he imagines a man with either no face or who’s lost in a crowd of milling strangers.

It might follow then that at the core of the band’s identity, Voelker is allowed a certain chameleon status in his songwriting. And he is. Voelker assumes character voices like an impressionist. Those of larger-than-life folk legends, down-and-out vagrants and hopeless romantics. Each has a voice, a cadence and typically a tragic flaw given a depth of tone by Voelker’s evocative guitar playing.

And let’s not editorialize too far about the cleanest, fastest folk fingerpicking in Lincoln. Instead, let’s back it up with a quote from Jon Dell of Bonehart Flannigan and Universe Contest who called Voelker, hands down, one of the best guitar players in the Midwest.

And that’s a musical standard in Jack Hotel. Joe Salvati on steel dobro, Josh Rector on fiddle and Marty Steinhausen on bass fuel a culture of improvisation within the band that comes out when the songwriting leaves room for two- and three-part solos, more bouncing and clanging of metal than a haywire assembly line.

But their performances can also be delicate. Take a song like “Throwing Pennies” the last track from the live EP they recorded earlier this month in this very studio on KZUM’s Tree with Roots show.

It’s an ode to childhood love lost to age and the persistence of time. But foremost it’s a demonstration of Jack Hotel’s most visible musical quality: naturalism. A naturalism that follows them to a packed Bourbon Theatre or the corner of a Saturday farmer’s market.

It followed them again into the KZUM studios on Thursday. Ladies and gentlemen, Jack Hotel:

Chance Solem-Pfeifer is Hear Nebraska's staff writer. He encourages you to read Günter's piece expanding the universe of "Dead Man's Run," published earlier this week on HN. Reach him at chancesp@hearnebraska.org.