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Ernest Troost and Robyn Landis, Abounding Grace Church, Jan. 21

When Bonnie Vining sold her southeast-side coffeehouse to establish the Live Acoustic Venue Association and dive headlong into the concert business, the move was hailed by many as bold and exciting. When she proceeded to schedule a full slate of shows at an eastside church that no one had ever heard of, many were left wondering if this was perhaps a bit too bold.

Several years later, the Abounding Grace Church, with its unique octagonal design and superior acoustics, is a full-fledged star. On this night, about 75 folks gathered to hear two excellent, albeit relatively unknown singer-songwriters perform within the kind of environment over which most folk musicians would salivate.

While Ernest Troost makes much of his living writing for television and films in Los Angeles, his versatility as a performer was on full display. He alternated between a small-body Collings and slightly larger Santa Cruz guitar, and his fingerpicking style dominated much of his playing. During several of his original tunes, it was a treat to simultaneously enjoy the rhythm, lead and bass lines. In addition to his bread-and-butter folk-blues approach, he offered up a couple of love songs, including one that was an ode to substance abuse, as well another tune he described as "psychedelic-cowboy country-Western."

Troost's stories behind the songs also added context. Before "Harlan County Boys," he talked about how he expected to write about the "tough, grizzly miners" deep within the heart of Kentucky coal country. "Much to my surprise," he said, he penned a tune about the women of Harlan County, and how they stopped the fighting between the miners and the mine owners. "Once again," he deadpanned, "I was outsmarted by the song." He also dedicated one tune, "Real Music," to recently passed Jonathan Holden.

Opening the show was Robyn Landis, who was joined for most of her set by singer and bassist Sabra Faulk. Landis' set of songs old and new was marked by their exquisite harmonies on several tuneful choruses. The high point of her show was a solo spot on "She Don't Have Your Eyes." Based on a book by adoptive parents, A Love Like No Other, this song covered myriad extraordinary and heartfelt parental emotions.

More by Jim Lipson

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