by Derek Lynch
To warm up the crowd on a freezing Thursday night at the Turf Club in St. Paul, Joe Pug invited local super-duo Dusty Heart to play a set consisting of covers, originals, and pure Americana soul. Minnesota folk heroes Molly Dean and Barbara Jean quietly and confidently took the stage without introduction, plugged in, and tuned before the crowd realized anything was happening. Within seconds of their opener, “the River,” the audience was taken on a trip to Appalachia and the far North where music happens in circles around a jug of whiskey with family and close friends. The original song was reminiscent of the storytellers that define Americana music-I couldn’t help but be reminded of Gillian Welch’s light, rhythmic guitar and Alison Krauss’s ethereal voice.
“Ethereal Americana” are really some of the best words to describe the entirety of Dusty Heart’s set. Following “River,” Molly switched to the Stratocaster and fingerpicked a dreamy, lilting lullaby for a cover of Spider John Koerner’s “Skipper and His Wife.” “Red Dirt Girl” was another highlight-Barbara soaring on a timeless fiddle solo, perfectly tuned and nuanced harmonies, and a haunting outro that left the Turf Club more silent than I had ever seen it.
Another stand-out performance came toward the end of Dusty Heart’s set when the duo played “January,” an instrumental that Barbara dedicated to her late grandmother, also named Barbara and also a fiddle player. The tribute was an absolutely stunning waltz, and Barbara played as though her grandmother were in the crowd.
Jean and Dean walked off stage at the end of their set as quietly as they had entered, but the thunderous applause that met them could not have been a more stark contrast. After an incredible set by Joe Pug (who is-I will say until I die-one of the great songwriters of our generation), Dusty Heart was invited on stage once more to join him in his original “Speak Plainly, Diana.” A last-minute addition, it was playful and fun to hear, and it was a fitting victory lap for a successful show by Dusty Heart.
Skipper and His Wife
Faded Love and Memories
You Don’t Know Me
Red Dirt Girl
The Way It Goes