His Place Downtown

From the Playboy Blog, 3/03/08milton.jpg

Touring from venue to venue is a real test of a band’s versatility. So when you’re lucky enough to catch one in its niche a good show is virtually guaranteed. Thus, New York folk-rocker Milton’s kick-off-your-shoes bar music has been thriving in weekly sets on his home turf, the aptly named Living Room; the Lower East Side bar has crammed in loyal Milton fans every Wednesday night in February.

Milton’s music clearly descends from the likes of the Band, King Harvest, and Van Morrison. His songs are tight and melodic, albeit less groundbreaking than the work of his predecessors. For me, the band’s draw comes less from the melodies than from a texture that plays particularly nicely in an intimate bar. Milton’s voice is a deep rasp that sounds carefree but never misses a note, perfect for the band’s relaxed, swinging tunes. Oxford grad Frank Campbell’s jangling barroom piano intros and solos inject liveliness in an ensemble that might otherwise be weighed down by more mundane guitar chords, particularly on pop-ier songs like “Her Place Uptown.”

The group also flourishes when it digs into bluegrass, as it did last Wednesday in a mid-set interlude. Guitarist Martin Kearton switched to a mandolin and bassist Sami Bucella traded his electric bass for a stand-up, and the band let loose on a few twanging country tunes. The audience reached for another beer and let out a few whoops and hollers as Milton mimicked George Clooney from O Brother Where Art Thou? This energy carried through the end of the show, with die-hard fans singing along on the last few tunes.

Milton’s most recent, self-titled album is a fun listen, but it doesn’t retain the energy of the live set. If you’re around New York, see their last show at the Living Room this Wednesday night. Otherwise, check the band’s website to see when they’re hitting up a bar near you.

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