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Old Southern Moonshine Revival is tipping the jug

by Jordan Green

A pre-show gloom suffuses Greene Street, with the club’s tinted plate glass filtering the early evening sunlight and the stage lights not yet casting their glory. Neil Broere’s ear-to-ear grin, sparkling eyes and curly black locks project an aura of welcome as the man who makes up one part of Old Southern Moonshine Revival’s singer-songwriter partnership plants his boots on center stage.

He and Marcus Kiser, a bearded man with long hair tucked under a farm cap, have been writing songs together for two years, but only “playing seriously” for the past eight months, Broere says. Tonight will be the second time their new six-piece band has played for a live audience.

Not long ago the two 29-year-old High Pointers made a pilgrimage to Nashville. At every other bar the hired talent seemed to be playing “Rocky Top,” the official song of Tennessee. At one particular venue the North Carolina singer-songwriters were invited to get onstage to perform a couple numbers.

“We were really excited to be playing in Nashville,” Broere recalls. “So they said to us, ‘What songs do you plan on doing?’ We said, ‘Oh we might do ‘First Night’ – whatever it was – one of our songs. They said, ‘Oh no, you’ve got to play a cover.’ We said, ‘Well, okay then.’ We didn’t drive all the way to Nashville to play other people’s music.”

They’re co-writers, these two. One writes down some ideas for a song, and the other edits the rough draft. They fine-tune the song until it takes on a life of its own. When they sing, it’s sometimes hard to tell where one’s voice ends and the other’s begins. It’s that way when they talk, too.

“It’s a tension-filled compromise, but it’s always positive,” says Kiser, whose Southern gospel and Southern rock influences impart both the pain and release of those two traditions on his singing. “We get this stuff back after we’ve toiled. I’m listening to us as a fan. I take myself out of it.”

Before they began their partnership in earnest, Broere made a sojourn to Texas.

“There was this real genuine sense of America,” he says. “It’s cowboy boots, driving a car, shooting a glass of whiskey, loving a woman. The other thing is, everyone’s a storyteller in Texas, whether they play music or not.”

All that imagery aside, Old Southern Moonshine Revival does not exactly consider itself a country act, and the two songwriters indicate that may be a sticking point when it comes to signing with a record label. They might get pegged in that genre simply because they tell stories with their songs and they don’t play with a lot of distortion. Bruce Springsteen or the Eagles are comparisons they would gladly embrace.

Now they’ve put together a crack group of musicians to flesh out their ideas, including Kenny Taylor on bass, Brent Bennett on drums, Brent Lain on lead guitar and Ryan Puckett on keyboards.

“If there’s any issue, we’ll work it out,” Broere says. “If there’s any marriage it’s between he and I.”

To which his partner rejoins: “The first two years wasn’t so much about writing songs as developing a relationship.”

Old Southern Moonshine Revival’s insistence on playing original songs sets the band apart in a region of the state where persevering musicians are known for knuckling under to the demands of popular taste by playing endless sets of covers.

They also distinguish themselves by their ambition. They’ve already landed opening slots at the N Club and Ziggy’s, two of the Triad’s highest capacity venues. David Butler, host of the “Sunday Morning Rehab Show” on Guilford College’s campus radio station, is in the crowd at Greene Street tonight. Fresh from MerleFest and the Shakori Hills festival, Butler says he’s here to check out the band after receiving a request from them to play live on his show.

By the time the band hits the stage the venue is practically filled with a well-scrubbed crowd of peroxide-tressed women, and young men with crew cuts and the odd black West Coast Choppers T-shirt. They know the words and sing along to a couple songs – a phenomenon Kiser can only attribute the band’s MySpace site when he considers it after the show.

Armed with twin acoustic guitars, Broere and Kiser lay down an energetic latticework of strumming and trade vocals laden with sincerity. Lain occasionally conjures a menacing hillbilly undertow, playing his six strings against Bennett’s pounding drumbeat. Puckett caresses the keys, creating an aural landscape like icy snowflakes that recalls early Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Through the latter part of the show audience members repeatedly call out, “Boots!”

“Anything missing from this show?” Broere asks near the end.

“Boots!”

“You guys know that?” the singer-songwriter inquires of his band mates. “I sure don’t.” Then he turns back to the audience and says, “It is safe to say there has been a revival in Greensboro tonight.”

Then the band launches into a tight little rockin’ number called “New Pair of Boots.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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