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Puss n Boots has a lot to live up to

The Sinclair, Cambridge, Mass., July 24, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Six years after first playing together, life is seems to be very good these days for Puss n Boots. The trio - Norah Jones, Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper - just released their first album, a collection of originals and mainly country covers. And they're about to play the ultra prestigious Newport Folk Festival this weekend.

But somehow at their last club show for awhile, Puss n Boots was not exactly firing on all four. In fact, probably the aspect most missing on this evening was a general proclivity towards firepower.

The set list pretty much staked its ground on mid-tempo songs that did not have a lot of highs or lows. Competent, well sung (depending who did the singing) and played, but this was not a set that was aiming for the stratosphere.

It took just about 50 minutes, or 12 songs into the 18-song set before P n B turned it up a few notches with "Don't Know What It Means," the lone Jones original on the release.

They picked it up from there with "GTO," a Jeb Loy Nichols song spearheaded by Dobson and then even more on the upbeat "What Does the Deep Say Say," a Doc Watson cover.

Puss n Boots ended strong with a cover of Neil Young's "Down By the River" before encoring with Kris Kristofferson's hit you between the eyes "If You Don't Like Hank Williams (Kiss My Ass)."

But it took a very long time to get that space. That didn't have to do the individual songs. Most of them were quite fine, thank you, whether originals or covers.

Puss n Boots is steeped in country music, made obvious by their choice of material, including Rodney Crowell's "Bull Rider," a song sung by Johnny Cash, and Roger Miller's "Tarnished Angel," made famous by George Jones. Jones was adept on guitar, precise, eschewing showiness to achieve her country vibe.

Jones is a very fine singer (she's on a country bent to say the least this year, fortunately, having released the most excellent "Foreverly," an Everly Brothers covers album with Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong earlier this year). Dobson, who split her time between drums and being upfront on acoustic guitar, tended towards the jazzy side, bordering on country.

As for Popper, who once upon a time was a member of Ryan Adam's backing band The Cardinals, well, her voice did not match up to the quality of her mates. She was borderline pitchy and a bit flat sounding, although she held down the lead on the Watson cover quite well.

This was only the seventh date of this run of shows. One got the sense that this is a work in progress. Fortunately, they have a very fine album to live up to. Now, if they can only get the touring part of the equation figured out, life will be even better.

Local duo Dwight & Nicole opened with a bluesy set, which crept towards country as well. With only their voices and Dwight Ritcher's guitar, they acquitted themselves with covers. including Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." and "On Top of the World" from their new disc, "Shine On."