REVIEW: Sean Whiting and Brother Smith put on vocal master class at The Burl

Story by Matt Wickstrom

Sean Whiting
Sean Whiting

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Brother Smith and Sean Whiting joined forces and welcomed special guests during an epic Valentine’s Day bash at The Burl.

Sean Whiting & The Handsome Bastards––comprised of lead guitarist Austin Lewis, bassist Trevor Litteral and drummer Daniel Johnson––kicked off the vocal master class by sprinting out of the gates with fiery southern rock ballads “Starting Gun” from his 2017 effort Finally… The Beginning and “Top of the World” from 2019’s High Expectations before later welcoming Josh Nolan to the stage to shred guitar on “Misery.”

A barrage of covers also invaded Whiting’s performance including Men at Work’s “Land Down Under, Grand Funk Railroad’s “American Band” and a set closing rendition of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” The rock ‘n roll nostalgia was mixed between other, more soulful originals from Whiting such as “Hey There” and “I’m Gonna Love You,” the last of which showed off the powerhouse voice of Whiting as he moved from subtle croons to howling harmonies with sheer effortlessness.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again––I can’t help but hear Chris Stapleton in Whiting’s voice, particularly the range he possesses and how easy he makes it look to belt the big notes. As a result, it comes as no surprise that Whiting and Stapleton’s high school years in Paintsville overlapped, helping to bring the likeness full circle. There must be something in that Eastern Kentucky water…

Brother Smith opened the night cap as a duo between brothers Wes and Aaron Smith for a handful of songs including a rootsy, melodic duet on “One Day at a Time” before welcoming the rest of the band––vocalist Amberly Caddell, saxophonist Trevor Caddell and bassist Tyler Monell––starting with “Song for Saturday (Summer Breeze),” an upbeat fusion of jazz, soul and rock ‘n roll akin to New Orleans collective the Revivalists.

With the full band behind them Aaron Smith moved behind the drum kit for the remainder of the evening, showing off his musical dexterity as he also navigated his usual fiddling and vocal duties with relative ease, much like Laura Gregory and Casey Papendieck of red river grunge trio The Handshake Deals do juggling drums, bass and accordion.

brother smith
Brother Smith. Sarah Cahill | KY Cahill Photography

Much like Whiting’s performance, Brother Smith’s showing featured a myriad of covers including James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” Steve Miller Band’s “Swing-Town” and James Taylor’s “Night Owl.” The diverse lineup of covers showing off the band’s hybrid blend of roots rock continued with the group welcoming Eric Bolander––who’d just arrived at the venue after opening up for The Steeldrivers earlier in the evening down the street at Manchester Music Hall––to the stage to take the vocal reigns on Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” as Wes Smith moved to keys.

The sit-ins picked back up late into the night following performances of the band’s latest single “Group Dynamics: Mathanthropolography” and the jubilant “Happy Tune” when Whiting returned to the stage for a cover of The Temptations’ “Shakey Ground” before the band closed the night out on a marathon breakdown on Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” this time with Amberly spearheading the band’s three-pronged vocal onslaught.

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