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"Old Lost Tears" by Whiskey Folk Ramblers at Stash Lab for SoFar Sounds #535 in Dallas, TX 11/9/13

"Run" by Kaela Sinclair at Stash Lab for SoFar Sounds #535 in Dallas, TX 11/9/13

SoFar Sounds #535 11/9/13 Dallas, TX

The promise of musical discovery coaxed a few dozen adventurous music fans out of the warm autumn sun, and into the cozy confines of an artist’s studio on a Saturday afternoon. As a handful of SoFar volunteers made last minute equipment adjustments, the last of the lucky audience members scooted, slid, and shuffled into the remaining few square inches of floor space at Stash Lab in Dallas, SoFar #535’s listening room.

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The back of the room revealed a few recognizable faces to those familiar with the area music landscape, but the lineup of performers wasn’t known to the audience until JoAnna, SoFar’s area coordinator taped a poster to the wall confirming the day’s acts. Audience members snapped smart phone photos of the poster and discussed with their plus-ones and new elbow buddies the musical menu for today: two out-of-towners, a couple area stalwarts and a buzz-worthy local up-and-comer. With everyone finally settled, SoFar’s 15th DFW/d area show promised to be a good one.

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First up was Alex Wong, who off-handedly remarked that he was homeless as he pulled his guitar strap over his head and tuned up. His casual disposition made it clear that he mentioned this not as a play for sympathy or as some hipster currency but merely as context for the songs that followed.  "Brooklyn Blurs" describes the cold isolation and stagnation one can feel in the bustling August heat of America’s largest city, while "Always Something Better" laments the folly of hesitating while opportunities swirl about. By the time he reached the crescendo of his final number, "Are You Listening," those in the room joined him in its refrain, singing softly, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!” To great applause the transient troubadour - true to his songs - hustled out the door for his next gig across town.

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Dallas-based Fox and the Bird came up next and immediately displayed the honey-sweet harmonies and intricate musicianship they are known for. Dan Bowman and company’s prairie porch tunes hearken back to dustier times of hope amidst great hardship. Petra Kelly’s weeping fiddle weaved its way through the verses of “Wreck of the Fallible,” a somber tale of the downtrodden set adrift, pondering their fate. “No Man’s Land” tells an inspiring story of a young man striking out on his own to put down roots of a better life, far away.  “Life can be hard,” they belted, “but hard can be good.” Dan, Jacob, Petra, and Paul’s took the audience with them on that journey on the waves of earnestness and melody.

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Austin’s Ruby Jane first captivated the crowd with her fingers, working up and down the entire length of the neck of her fiddle plucking complex pizzicato runs as her accompanist’s jazzy bass lines complimented her every turn. Her voice then took over, draping the room in a haunting veil of innocence with stories of heartbreak that belie her 19 years. Ruby Jane demonstrated her remarkable musical range when she picked up her guitar and played a stripped-down version of her new single “Ticket Out” that induced plenty of head bobbing and swaying among the SoFar patrons. Her 5-song set ended with a an upbeat flourish solidifying her reputation as an immense talent in the infancy of an impressive career.

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Denton singer-songwriter Kaela Sinclair came to the show riding a wave of well-deserved buzz following the recent release of her stellar debut album Sun & Mirror. Kaela eased into it with “Better,” a deliberately paced post-breakup piece that showed off her vocal range and its ability to assert itself in a quiet room full of strangers. “The Realist” and current single “Original Sin” ramped things up, unfurling her penchant for penning vulnerable, yet self-assured pop music that epitomizes her recorded efforts. To top off her performance, Kaela and her bandmates’ lush arrangement of “Run” softly enveloped the crowd with confident tones and just a hint of playful mischief.

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As the area’s quintessential hazy saloon band, Whiskey Folk Ramblers can make anyplace feel like an old timey dance hall with their jaunty, booze-soaked musical adventures. On this day, however, the SoFar veterans exhibited their remarkable nack for playing to the room with a stripped-down set that highlighted tracks from their third album, The Lonesome Underground. Frontman Tyler Rogeux’s ease at the helm was evidenced in “Lights on the Highway,” one of their patented songs about hitting the road that evokes images of jalopies overflowing with misfits. The whimsical “Moanin’ Rag” brought the audience to a paradoxical state of subdued giddiness: eager to get up and dance, but restrained by decorum to abstain. “Old Lost Tears,” a definitive Whiskey Folk tune, hooked the listeners into sepia-toned reminiscence of days gone by with a banjo-stringed, harmonica- reeded soundtrack.

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Alas, the show came to an end. The patrons stood, stretched their legs and headed out the door into the cool evening, clearly  satisfied with the ecclectic 25-song musical journey that was another SoFar success.

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