In 1998, Nick Lowe convinced legendary Southern songwriting team Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham to pair up as a performing team for a series of UK dates. The duo -- Penn on acoustic guitar and tackling the lion's share of lead vocals, Oldham on electric piano and harmonies -- didn't disappoint, either. They served up heartfelt, stripped-down and often revealing interpretations of classic tunes, most of which they'd written together in the 1960s.
The resulting CD, Moments From This Theatre: Live, appeared in 1999 on British label Proper Records. But as an import-only item, the disc remained somewhat elusive until Proper opened up an American office and reissued it stateside last fall.
Why am I telling you this? Because unless you were up in Asheville at the Grey Eagle venue on April 30, Moments is the closest you'll come to tasting the sweet Penn & Oldham brew. One of only two shows scheduled for the US this year, the Grey Eagle gig drew a surprisingly modest turnout, about 100 people. Yet for close to two hours, those 100 music lovers were pinching themselves at their good luck. The bulk of the material on Moments was aired, along with a whole lot more. Among the highlights were "Cry Like a Baby" (Box Tops) and "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" (Aretha Franklin, the Flying Burrito Brothers), each appended by a lengthy anecdote from Penn about the circumstances surrounding the writing and making of the song. A version of "Dark End of the Street" (James Carr and them Burritos again) was so softly luminous that the room seemed suspended in time. Throw in some rousing blues ("Nine Pound Steel"), slippery funk ("Memphis Women and Chicken") and upbeat pop ("Nobody's Fool," a cut from Penn's obscure 1973 solo LP of the same name), and you had one of those rare, tell-the-grandchildren-about-it evenings.
Dan Penn next performs in this area at Greensboro's Eastern Music Festival Fringe with the Hacienda Brothers on July 18. See www.easternmusicfestival.org/fringe for updates.