Rockin' New Orleans country-soul band The Deslondes starts out their live show by humming and stomping their feet in rhythm while percussionist Cameron Snyder bangs a hammer in time. They break into guitarist/singer Sam Doores' song, "I Got Found," like a prison chain gang on the side of a Southern highway, with call-response verses laced with a little self-deprecating humor:
Well, I know I been mean,
(I done lost)
The sweetest thing I seen,
(Get off the cross!)
I'll board your flyin' machine,
Little train's comin' with a whistle and a steam ...
It's Dust Bowl blues colliding with Big Easy soul, and Doores and The Deslondes are coming back to play it again at the Evening Muse on Wednesday night.
"Wrote that song before I could legally drink," Doores jokes. "I was listening to a lot of spiritual stuff and weird Tom Waits' songs. I was just back from Ireland, tried out college and met a few musicians, missed New Orleans. We were driving from Washington State to Oklahoma, eating fried chicken and drinking milk."
He started humming the tune, then calling out lines, and his bandmates called back verses and it went on for an hour or two as they drove down the road, long enough "to go busk with and try to get gas money."
Formerly known as The Tumbleweeds, The Deslondes play country, blues-infused folk/rock songs with tight harmonies. Singer/guitarist Riley Downing's low, gravelly Missouri twang counters Doores' smooth, smoky tenor vocals. Dan Cutler sings and swings an upright bass. John James occasionally steals the show in the band's live performances with slick pedal steel, guitar licks and fiddlin'. Snyder sings and plays piano, guitar, horns and percussion.
Doores and Snyder, who were playing in a band out of New Orleans, met up with Downing in 2008 at the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Oklahoma, where the three singer-songwriters swapped tunes around the campfire. Downing sang "This Mornin' I was Born Again," his take on Guthrie's lyrics. "It was one of the first songs I heard Riley sing," recalls Doores, "and it made me want to play music with him."
Downing eventually joined The Tumbleweeds in New Orleans with Doores and Cutler. In 2012, the band raised money through a kickstart campaign to record Holy Cross Blues, an album on Dollartone Records. The album, recorded in a friend's living room, is a mix of originals and traditional songs, including Doores' "I Got Found" and Downing's raw "Low Down and Lonesome." They recorded Abner Jay's "Depression Blues," invoking the old Stax sound, and Doore's arrangement of "Reuben's Train" with a chugging harmonica.
Snyder and James joined the band in 2013 while on a West Coast tour with Grammy-winning Alabama Shakes. They recently hit the road opening for Hurray for the Riff Raff. Doores co-wrote "St. Roch Blues" with Riff Raff's Alynda Lee Segarra — a haunting song that pays homage to people murdered in the New Orleans neighborhood. The song is featured on the Riff Raff's new album, Small Town Heroes (ATO Records).
"There's so much beauty and so much tragedy in front of you," Doores says of the Crescent City that, at 28, he now calls home. He grew up in San Francisco and spent his summers in Kansas, listening to The Beatles, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. "I'm obsessed with The Band — Levon Helm is one of my heroes," he says.
He also delved into the music and legacies of Guthrie, Lead Belly and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. He bought Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads album and read his autobiography, Bound for Glory. "It changed my life forever and made me want to travel and write songs," Doores says. He eventually ended up in New Orleans and started busking with other street performers.
"We all trade songs," Doores says about the music scene. "It's easy to find really inspiring people to play with."
The Deslondes come to Charlotte, fresh from a performance with the Riff Raff at this year's Newport Folk Festival. They'll be playing some of the music they've recorded for their next album, due out in early 2015 on New West Records.