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“The staying power of music” is how Eric Lugosch described the nature of the sound and songs he shared on May 5 with special guests, guitarist Phil Heywood and pianist Margaret Jones at SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave. The audience was in accord with every note as the bright afternoon carried on in the way that an inspired conversation does between old friends. It was that unique and tender blend of American music, presented in a way that possesses a deep tradition and reverence but at once revels in its ultimate wit and joy.
Between easy smiles and knock-knock jokes, this feeling was doubled as the respective guitar-picking champions Mr. Lugosch and Mr. Heywood took the stage.
Picking through what Mr. Lugosch likes to call “Pop Songs from the 1800s,” he delivered musical selections both rare and familiar. Pulled from the vast and diverse pool of Americana and firmly rooted in the folk, blues and pop tradition, the sounds jumped and came alive as one through the snappy finger-picking style of which both players are undisputed masters.
From a spry, conversational take on Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” to sweet Italian waltzes Mr. Lugosch learned to play from maestros in cafés along the Italian Riviera, each song touched upon various tempos and phrases as in a profound meditation. His version of Joni Mitchell’s classic “Both Sides, Now” was stirring and contemplative, at times wresting the familiar melody from its expected place, twirling it out of sight and retuning it again with all the astonishing skill of a practiced sleight-of-hand artist.
A deep sense of ease and intuition was apparent in the scope of each note. Through the conduit of each lyric Mr. Lugosch drove an individual momentum into the journey of each tune.
Ms. Jones joined the stage and delivered a terrific performance on the piano. The two did a number original vocal and instrumental compositions together, which were the fruits of a long-time collaboration.
For the second set, Mr. Heywood launched into a batch of his own bold selections from the American song book. He has a fierce and kind style that is all his own. His take on Mississippi John Hurt’s “Candy Man,” was an excellent, down-home homage to the ragtime classic and the blues at large. His version of Taj Mahal’s “Good Morning, Miss Brown,” toughened the room up a bit, as he stretched out his vocals on harsh notes and really got around to riffing. Speaking between tunes with the notes still hanging in the air, Mr. Heywood intoned names like Blind Willie McTell, Scrapper Blackwell and Robert Johnson as he spoke of his own personal influences and the impact that they had on crafting his style.
Finally, the two guitar-picking heavy-weights took the stage together for a final round of tunes. A version of “Oh Shenandoah” lifted the spirit of the room and restored the humble Sunday tone, calling to mind ghosts of the past. A rendition of The Beatles’ “In My Life” saw a true interplay between friends who have been sharing the love of music together for decades, taking a familiar arrangement and putting their own distinct mark on it. A reverential version of “Amazing Grace,” which was stirring and emotional, brought things full circle in a hymn and fit the whole performance snugly back in the American canon.
Having played together for more than 30 years, Mr. Lugosch and Mr. Heywood have a keen sense of one another on stage. Their guitar work as a duo strikes a balance that contrasts, brightens and builds. Their selections as individual players bring together an even larger picture of the past, one of a sound not forgotten and certainly still very much alive. This is the third showcase of this kind Mr. Lugosch has put together at SPACE. I will be eagerly awaiting the next.