Guitarist Ross Bellenoit is the kind of musician who can play very classic-sounding tunes, ones that may be inspired by Elvis Costello or Bill Frissel; but he can just as easily give you a dose of solo-heavy rock that veers more toward Zeppelin or Hendrix. He is a true song craftsman, making sure the art of good songwriting takes priority over flaunting his guitar chops, and does he have them. His songs slowly but surely become ingrained in the mind, leaving an appreciated but somewhat permanent imprint. He has played guitar on several albums by Philadelphia musicians, including Amos Lee, Birdie Busch, and John Francis. He has collaborated with the Sweetback Sisters, as well as with drummer Freddie Berman and bassist Jaron Olevsky to form “The Little Rolling Thunder Review”.
At MilkBoy Philadelphia Friday night, Bellenoit performed in support of his newest release, Home Songs, Vol. 2. He and his four-piece band kicked things off with “When I Leave”, which was quite characteristic of his songwriting style; it flooded the room and immediately resonated, especially the melismatic “oohs” that serve as the chorus. The following song, “Your Face”, a sprightly tune with somber undertones, inspired some waltz-like dancing in MilkBoy’s mostly standing-room second level.
“Besides” seemed to be a point of intensity, one of Bellenoit’s strongest numbers to date. It prompted some singalong, coming through full and lush through MilkBoy’s stellar sound system. The guitarist switched to accordion for “To Be Free” from Home Songs, Vol. 1. This is a great song- its minor feel and taunting guitar riff are synergistic support for the very bluesy melody line Bellenoit sings so effortlessly. The song contains one of his more daring melodies, in my opinion, conjuring a bit of a Beatles or Turtles vibe.
A yet-to-be-recorded song entitled “When We Both Belong” proved a little more pop-y than the tracks from Bellenoit’s latest EP, but that wasn’t a bad thing. The accordion in tandem with electric guitars bridged the gap between the tenderness of folk and the harshness of rock. He really strutted his guitar stuff for “Lockless Heart” from his 2010 release Eight Track Mind. It was definitely a highlight of the set, a couple audience-members shouting “Rock out!” when the song had ended.
It’s amazing that a tune can start out so contained and almost wholesome, but can transform into a vicious, violent, all-out brawl of a rock song. That more or less encompasses “This Time Around”, and that’s what a lot of Bellenoit’s songs are made of. His music has two sides- an accessible brand of rock and a jam-heavy derivative of Robert Plant or Pink Floyd. The incendiary and eclectic set ended very appropriately with an Elvis Costello cover, “Riot Act”.
Photo by: Lisa Schaffer