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Country newcomers bring Sundy Best to NYC

Sundy Best plays at the Mercury Lounge in

Sundy Best plays at the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan on May 15, 2014.

Kris Bentley stood backstage at the Mercury Lounge on May 15 and compared his New York City show debut to “being thrown to the wolves.”

The comment was not an accusation toward the gathering crowd -- merely an audible twinge of nerves. Ironically, what he said just after confirmed he had nothing to worry about. He and his Sundy Best partner-in-crime, Nick Jamerson, just wanted to meet “different kinds of people.”

By the end of their show, the Kentucky-bred duo’s earthy set -- with no backup other than Jamerson on guitar and Bentley pounding on a cajón for percussion while simultaneously using it as a chair -- confirmed that they were exactly where they were supposed to be.

When you retain the bluegrass/country/classic rock foundation you brought to the mic while seamlessly paying homage to Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”  and Lil’ Wayne’s “Mrs. Officer,” finding allegiance in America’s melting pot is a non-issue.

By the end of the night you were unsure of Sundy Best’s career destination. You just knew you wanted to tag along.

The duo’s performance reminded me of a Little Big Town private set at downtown’s Bookstore Cafe a few years ago -- not as much in sound as in spirit. In both cases the initial pleasure of the music was tempered by concern of the groups being typecast as “alt-country,” a category akin to a tree falling in the woods. What purpose exactly does a unique sound serve if a grand total of 75 people hear it?

Little Big Town didn’t fall into that trap, and neither did Sundy Best on its March 4 release, “Bring Up the Sun.”

Single “Until I Met You” opens with a Mellancamp heartland vibe, then tells a love story that will have the Hunter Hayes teenage girl contingent saving some of their heartthrob screams for Bentley and Jamerson. (The pair played this song on, ironically, Valentine’s Day during their Grand Ole Opry debut in Nashville.)     

Conversely, “Smoking Gun” is a simultaneously dark and hopeful tale of struggling with -- then getting to the verge of overcoming -- crippling small-town scarlet letters.

It’s rather observant to both embrace your down-home surroundings, and come to the realization that everyone knowing everyone else’s business isn’t always so cozy.

The New York juxtaposition of anonymity and kinship can be equally tricky, but Jamerson and Bentley seem to already get it.

When the pair changed its “Southern Boy” lyrics of “Thank God for West Virginia, thank God I’m a Southern boy” to “Thank God for New York City, thank God I’m a Southern boy,” It wasn’t just pandering for the locals.

In Sundy Best’s world, the song makes perfect sense either way.

Users on mobile devices can view the "Until I Met You" video at http://bit.ly/1fNSfbK.

Tags: Sundy Best , country , music , New York , NYC

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