Despite two gold albums and Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album last year, Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon still knows what it's like to be unknown.
With the group on hiatus, Vernon has been busy with other projects, most notably the rootsy blues-rock trio The Shouting Matches, whose debut album Grownass Man eschews Bon Iver's quiet folk for rollicking, traditionalist rock. The trio, comprised of Vernon, guitarist/keyboardist/harmonica player Phil Cook and drummer Brian Moen, had one of the sparser crowds at Austin City Limits festival; a shame, since the band's hour-long set was a festival highlight that would've slayed in the hippie-friendly confines of Bonnaroo.
Tracks like "Mother, When?" and "Heaven Knows" evoke traditional blues lyricism and electric blues solos nonexistent in Bon Iver, with Vernon employing a bluesy growl recalling Black Keys' Dan Auerbach (or bluesman Elmore James for the purists). Cook augmented the set with killer harmonica playing, a phrase not normally applied to current bands.
The group explicitly drew on its traditionalist roots during the set, covering revered gospel singer Mahalia Jackson's "I'm on My Way" and bluesman JJ Cale's "Crazy Mama." "Music lost a deep bro this year," said Vernon, referencing Cale's death earlier this year. "We're gonna play one in his memory." The group also dedicated their bouncy Americana track "New Theme" to Blind Boys of Alabama, whose latest album I'll Find a Way was produced by Vernon and Cook. "They've been an inspiration on a gajillion levels," Vernon told the crowd. "Phil and I worked with [them[ and there are an endless amount of things that we learned."
Like their pre-Coachella debut earlier this year, Shouting Matches sounded and felt more like three friends jamming and having fun more than anything else. Their songs sound like a drifter's mixtape, with tales of shuffling from city to city and finding redemption among the sinners. They've got the talent. Now they just need their own Wikipedia page.