The Suitcase Junket and Muddy Magnolias served up some damn fine music Friday night at the Crystal Bay Casino’s Hogs For the Cause concert that left everyone stuffed and happy.
Hogs for the Cause is a nonprofit group based in New Orleans that raises money for families fighting pediatric brain cancer. They throw a large event every spring in New Orleans and this year’s two-day barbecue included sets from bands such as Chris Robinson Brotherhood, The London Souls, Naughty Professor, Shovels and Rope and The Marcus King Band. It made sense that the satellite concert at the Crystal Bay Casino Friday had those same blues, folk and soul flavors, with both The Suitcase Junket and Muddy Magnolias providing its own unique offering.
There are a lot of one-man bands out there, but you probably won’t find many with as much panache as Matt Lorenz, a.k.a The Suitcase Junket. The first thing you noticed onstage was Lorenz’s auditory arsenal consisted of a suitcase fitted as a kick drum and stool, a gas-can snare drum, a circular saw blade that acted as a bell, a mangled hi-hat and a guitar that looked like it had been found in a dumpster (it was). Lorenz was as visually intriguing as his setup, looking like the emcee of a traveling freak show and burlesque troupe with his clashing red-stripe shirt and yellow polka-dot tie combo complimenting his waxed Roaring ’20s mustache and goatee.
As great as Lorenz and his setup looked, the way he tied it all together with a ramshackle shot of Delta blues, Appalachian folk and country-punk grit was even better. Lorenz’s guitar was scuzzed-out to maximum effect and it hit you with a rusted, bluesy blast as he worked his way through scrappy Chuck Berry and Muddy Water’s influenced rhythms. He didn’t get buried in the blues, though, and could taper off into country and folk territory with some spirited finger-picked melodies that had an open road energy in them. All the while, he was banging and smashing his junkyard percussion with his hands and feet like a live wire, creating a full, back-alley sound that more than filled the room.
The music was more cohesive than you would initially think considering Lorenz’s instruments and it only piques the curiosity of what he could sound like if he had a whole band behind him following him in his Suitcase Junket vision. But that would rob you of the joy of seeing Lorenz sit on his suitcase throne and rule over his followers as the troubadour king that he is.
Taking the stage after Lorenz, Nashville’s Muddy Magnolias smoothed out the edges left by his grizzled set with a sultry solution of soul, blues, R&B and country. Muddy Magnolias are Jessy Wilson and Kallie North, two talented vocalists who have found in each other perfect complements to their respective strengths.
It’s not too often you see two lead singers in a band, mainly because there isn’t enough room for ego and differing musical visions, but Muddy Magnolias are proof that when done right, two singers are better than one. Wilson is a Brooklyn native who has sung with John Legend, and her voice was a bright and charging energy that could spark anyone’s love light. North hails from Texas and she provided the lower, bluesy tones that grabbed you by the throat and left you feeling breathless.
When you put the two voices together with the rock and soul swagger of their band, it was a singular, enveloping force that left its mark on everyone in the audience. Muddy Magnolias released their debut “Broken People” back in 2016 and they pulled most of the set from its tracklist. The sweeping soul anthem “Shine On” surged on the wings of North and Wilson’s powerful delivery and they traded vibrant verses on feel-good “Brother, What Happened?” The highlight of the set came from the blues scorcher “It Ain’t Easy,” a sensual release of pain and redemption. The hushed, embering verses gave way to passionate flames emanating from North and Wilson’s soul, fanned even hotter by a fiery guitar solo. Afterward, everyone had to check themselves to make sure they weren’t smoking anywhere on their bodies.
What Muddy Magnolias are doing is not reinventing the wheel. Vivacious women singing a mixture of blues, soul, country and rock is something that will always have an audience, a combination that is the staple of so many people’s musical diets. It’s comfort food music in some degree, where ingenuity is overlooked for satisfaction. But Muddy Magnolias were so very satisfying Friday night, enough to want to try and get seconds and thirds before the meal was over.
One thing was certain after both The Suitcase Junket and Muddy Magnolias had left the room: Everyone left with a full soul and a wonderful taste in their ears.