Kevin Harvey belts out the blues during last night’s show at the Fallout Shelter in Norwood.
When the Durham County Poets hit the stage at the Fallout Shelter last night, you could count five players. By the time the band from Quebec was halfway through the Extended Play Sessions live show and filming, you could count at least as many genres.
Lead singer Kevin Harvey and his band are sonic shape shifters of the first order. Whether it’s blues, folk, soul, country, gospel or New Orleans swing, they purvey it with skill, aplomb and pure honesty. Blessed with a voice eerily reminiscent of Grammy winning country sensation Chris Stapleton, Harvey possesses in that instrument the ability to convey all those shades, and more.
One senses Harvey is more attuned to the blues. (In fact, the Durham County Poets are working toward fall release of “a dedicated blues album.”) But don’t think for a minute that the predilection has anything to do with the fact that he is in a wheelchair due to an accident that broke his neck and severed his spinal cord as a 19-year-old. He is not a man who appears put out by that bit of misfortune in the least. As Harvey tells it, friends who had heard him singing asked him to join a blues band four years after the 1981 accident. That band, Blind Lemon Pie, was his proving ground and basis in the blues. Now, nearly 35 years later, Harvey sings the blues and so much more masterfully, backed by an air-tight band of fellow Québécois — David Whyte (guitar, saxophone, vocals); Carl Rufh (double bass, trombone, vocals), Larry Cassini (guitars, vocals) and Rob Couture (drums). Last night, joined by West Newton fiddler Jackie Damsky, the Poets commanded a set of more than 90 minutes, switching almost metronomically from the slow blues of “Some Day,” to the sweet swing of “Outside Cat,” to the heart-wrenching folk ballad of “The Great Divide,” about a man traveling around the world alone to fulfill the dream he’d shared with his wife before her death.
Harvey is a natural entertainer, summoning witty banter between songs with a great spontaneity. It doesn’t sound practiced in the least, and he seems to revel in the joy of the quick rejoinder.
Despite marking their second Extended Play Sessions show in seven months, he and the Durham County Poets received one of the more raucous receptions heard from a Fallout Shelter crowd that is always deeply in tune with the music.
After they did a wonderful, singalong encore of The Band classic, “The Weight,” the crowd hooted for not just one more, but two or three. Harvey, knowing it was not a possibility with the standard post-show interview awaiting, didn’t miss a beat. “OK. We can do one more. Who wants to join me on ’99 Bottles of Beer on The Wall?’” Judging from the reaction, you got the impression the crowd would happily take on that hour-long challenge just to hear Harvey’s transcendent voice just a bit longer.