New Orleans native Sam Doores and Missouri-born Riley Downing got together to form an energetic country duo backed by a band called the Tumbleweeds. As a group that’s just getting off the ground, they’re still ironing out a few kinks (like a streamlined name), but their original songs and unique vocal combination of dusty highs and rumbling lows suggest something special is going on.
On Wednesday night (Feb. 20), they blew into Nashville’s Stone Fox for an hour-long set of swampy country soul that felt just right on a chilly night.
Doores and Downing are self-taught songwriters who met about five years ago at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, Okla. Sharing similar tastes in writers like Abner Jay and Bobby Charles, they quickly formed a friendship that has now led to a full-on creative partnership. They’ve toured together twice and even started a weekly country jam in New Orleans which immediately became a popular midweek destination.
At the Stone Fox, the duo moved methodically through about a dozen tunes. Each writer tends to work on his own material and brings the songs to the band, but there’s a surprising similarity between them. Themes of alligators, trains, hard times and bourbon-fueled travels abound, finding the previously undiscovered point where the Crescent City and Kansas City meet.
Doores quickly asserted himself as the group’s confident frontman, while Downing’s easygoing down-home charm and slow drawl took over to soothe the crowd. Drenching their sound in reverb and three-part harmonies (thanks to the Tumbleweeds), they launched directly into the lurching “I Got Found” and the freewheeling speed of “Ruben’s Train,” which Doores led.
That was followed by Downing with his campfire drinking tune “Throw Another Cap in the Fire,” which includes the woozy lines: “Gravity, you best to just let me go/You can keep on holding me down, but you can never hold me tight.”
Then came Downing’s “thirsty walking” song, “Alligator Shoes,” one of the songs the duo recorded for an online video series.
Later in the set, they kicked into another gear for “Less Honkin’ More Tonkin’,” a cleverly lighthearted song about the misery of driving in a big city. By this time, a dance party was breaking out, and the group kept their noisy audience moving without too much dead air between songs.
“Wrong Time to Be Right” proved to be one of the crowd’s favorites, and even though it’s not very fast, a grooving chorus made it a perfect two-stepper.
With only one album completed — Holy Cross Blues — and another slated to be recorded in Nashville this fall, this young group showed a lot of promise. Now if they could just figure out a shorter name.