Friday, February 13, 2015

Mike Farris at Midtown Live

Growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, Mike Farris' use of drugs and alcohol landed him in reform school as a youth, and an accidental overdose nearly killed him before he was 21 years old. He moved in with his father, gradually freeing himself from his addictions, and began playing guitar and writing songs. Upon recovery, he formed the southern boogie jam band Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies in 1990, but the endless touring through the bar circuit sent him back to his old habits. The band split after three albums, and Farris went on to sing in several bands, including a brief stint fronting Double Trouble, the rhythm section for the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. Finally, while attending the funeral of a friend, Farris decided he had enough, became a practicing Christian and rejected drugs and alcohol. He launched a solo career, singing a blend of New Orleans-style blues, soul and spirituals, and released his first solo album in 2002. He won the Americana Music Association's New and Emerging Artist of the Year Award in 2008 and the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Award for Traditional Gospel Album of the Year in 2010. Suffering from back surgery, he recently found himself hooked again, this time on prescribed pain medication; his fourth solo album was the catharsis of getting clean again. Shine for All the People was released in September 2014 and won the 2015 Grammy for Best Roots Gospel Album.

Midtown Live is Manhattan's newest stage for Americana and roots music. Farris performed solo tonight, accompanying himself with just one acoustic guitar for nearly two and a half hours. The set was comprised of songs from his years with the Wheelies, more recent original songs, and several cover songs. As he has done on previous occasions, Farris intertwined Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" with Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds", and imaginatively excavated the hollows of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and turned it into a very slow and dark murder ballad. He introduced a new composition, "Something Keeps on Telling Me," by saying that hearing a preacher break into song inspired him to turn the preacher's message into a universal song of encouragement. Over two and a half hours, there were many stories and many songs, but through it all, his mesmerizing vocals demonstrated a seemingly unlimited range and unbridled power. His honeyed yowl fluidly eased back and forth from a smoky-blues Saturday night to a gospel-revival Sunday morning. Listening to someone sing this well was thrilling.

Visit Mike Farris at