Sun. Oct. 12
Strolling around the Market area on any given night, it's never unusual to hear a solo house act strumming on an acoustic six-string, bellowing renditions of familiar radio hits. Interspersed between the raucous dance clubs, a handful of venues regularly feature solo performers and acoustic combos as free live entertainment. Sometimes, it sounds like the same act — or, at least, the same set list of songs — is playing in every bar. Sometimes a performer's distinctive voice or on-stage delivery stands out and demands attention.
Craig Lathey's strummy Sunday night set at Wet Willie's was certainly not full of guitar fireworks or wild stage antics, but his voice was strong and his tunes buzzed at a welcoming pace. The hoss-sized Mt. Pleasant-based singer/guitarist recently relocated to Charleston from West Virginia. Since last winter, he's maintained a weekly schedule of gigs in Mt. Pleasant and downtown, entertaining Shem Creek bargoers and strumming for tourists and locals on East Bay Street with an impressively vast catalog of rock, country, and blues classics. Occasionally, he even slips a honky-tonk styled original tune in the mix.
Set up just inside the club's front door, underneath a wildly-painted yellow mural, Lathey kept things simple and cool through a meandering mix of Creedence, Allmans, Willburys, and Clapton. While he will happily admit his guitar technique is limited to just a few basic chords, he was neither sloppy nor careless about his tempo, tone, or dynamics. His strongest attribute is his deep-toned singing — a clean and smooth style accented with a familiar, low-toned trill a la Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and a hint of Darius Rucker. His occasional use of a "vocal harmony" effects pedal enhanced more than it distracted. The unexpected, countrified reworkings of songs stood out, too ... I've never heard Oasis' "Wonderwall" or The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" sound quite so joyfully juke joint-esque. (www.myspace.com/craiglathey) —T. Ballard Lesemann