The Currys Christmas Show
The Virginia-based family band (brothers Jimmy and Tommy and cousin Galen) has been doing a Christmas show at Gainesville’s historic Thomas Center for six years now. The Currys have roots in the Florida panhandle and have released three albums, the most recent being this year’s This Side of the Glass. All of the Currys are songwriters, and the new album shows a clear progression toward more adventurous songwriting and is a well-rounded folk/rock collection of original songs.
I’ve seen the band four times this year, including at the Gamble Rogers Festival and the Florida Folk Festival. Every time I’ve been impressed, but seeing them in a listening room with excellent sound is a better way to really appreciate their finely-tuned harmonies. They switch instruments and lead singing duties regularly, which really keeps their music fresh. Galen and Jimmy switch off on guitar and bass, while Tommy plays mandolin and both acoustic and electric guitar. Most of the time their shows are limited to originals; for this Christmas show they did a selection of their better-known songs from each of their albums and mixed those with inventive arrangements of Christmas songs (and one Hanukkah song).
Their set started with two songs from their recent album, “Fault Lines” and “Pin Me Down,” both of which showcase their skintight harmony. They followed these up with “White Christmas” and the frequently covered Donny Hathaway tune “This Christmas.” Then came a surprise (and a rarity), a Curry-flavored Grateful Dead cover “Till the Morning Comes.” Several songs from their newest album, including Galen’s reggae-leaning “Soon Enough,” led to the set closer, a cover of The Band’s “Christmas Must Be Tonight.”
The second set started off with three originals, one from each of their albums, followed by George Michael’s “Last Christmas.” “José” is one of Galen’s songs, and like most of his, it’s quirky and a little obscure, describing an interaction with someone in a grocery store. It’s also an astute comment about the human condition. “Water from the Well” is from their first album Follow. The title song from their second album West of Here is one of my favorites. Another surprise to me was Peter Yarrow’s “Light One Candle,” a 1982 Peter, Paul and Mary Hanukkah song that celebrates the Maccabean liberation from the Greek Empire. An inventive swing version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” really raised the bar, with Tommy’s solid mandolin playing and some acapella lines. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and a wonderful take on “Silent Night” ended the show.
The Currys are fun. They enjoy playing music, and it’s pretty infectious. Their self-deprecating humor (including Galen’s jokes that vie for the worst jokes you’ve heard this or any other year) and off-the-wall observations keep the audience engaged; they’re accessible and unpretentious. You just don’t see disappointed people leaving a Currys show. You don’t get a night full of angst-ridden anthemic tunes, so don’t expect Blood on the Tracks or Bat Out of Hell. What you do get is carefully crafted substantial folk/soft rock songs presented with beautiful harmonies and subtle instrumentation that could have come right out of Laurel Canyon. At times they are reminiscent of the Thorns, the short-lived early 2000s “supergoup” with Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins. Both of these bands featured ethereal harmonies, but what set them apart was the quality and depth of their songwriting. If you get a chance to see the Currys, go for it. They are playing mostly Florida and Georgia dates for the next few months, including Whigfest in Tampa on Feb. 16th and back in Gainesville for the Heartwood Festival on Feb. 22nd. They’ll also be at the Florida Folk Festival again this spring.