Review

Striking Matches lights a real-world fire at the Mint

Striking Matches has found success on TV; now the country duo is building an audience on the road

Striking Matches arrived at the Mint with no shortage of heat.

Formed after Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis met in a guitar class at Nashville’s Belmont University, the country duo sparked insider interest a few years ago when the pair landed several songs on the popular ABC series “Nashville.” Then the group turned heads by teaming with T Bone Burnett, the veteran record producer, for its debut album, “Nothing But the Silence,” which came out in March as the first release on the newly revived I.R.S. label.

Now, Striking Matches is on the road trying to turn that industry buzz into a real-world following. An impressive gig Wednesday night moved the band toward that goal.

Which isn’t to say that Zimmerman and Davis are leaving their past behind. Not long into their hourlong set, Zimmerman told the small but enthusiastic crowd about how crucial the “Nashville” placements had been to their development; it was her preamble to “Hanging on a Lie,” a tart kiss-off performed on the television show by Hayden Panettiere’s character Juliette Barnes.

Later, the singers reclaimed “When the Right One Comes Along,” a lovely close-harmony ballad, from Scarlett O’Connor and Gunnar Scott, the make-believe “Nashville” duo whose artisanal roots-music sound closely mirrors that of Striking Matches. (With a knowing laugh, Davis recalled playing the song at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe, just as Gunnar does in an episode of the series.)

Yet Striking Matches, backed for most of the show by a drummer and a bassist, was strongest when it shook off that made-for-TV polish, as in “Never Gonna Love Again,” which built from a steady minor-key groove to a swampy blues-rock freak-out with dueling guitar solos. “Trouble Is As Trouble Does” was similarly intense: fierce acoustic strumming over a stomping hootenanny beat.

For “Miss Me More,” Zimmerman switched to mandolin but hardly softened her attack, slashing the small stringed instrument as though she were punishing it. And she and Davis both kicked up a storm in a breakneck run through Cream’s adaptation of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.”

Even “Missing You Tonight” and “Make a Liar Out of Me” — handsome pop tunes that on the band’s album channel the sensual thrum of late-’70s Fleetwood Mac — felt appealingly rowdy here, seemingly liable to fall apart at any moment.

That the songs held together was, of course, an indication of Striking Matches’ highly schooled professionalism. The duo’s trick was making you forget about that.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
66°