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SWF, desperately seeking handsome and free music to join me for a beer. . . . Angst-ridden rock and hyper-clichéd folk need not apply.

Countless nights I've spent surrounded by stale smoke, dim lights, and shaggy-haired men in search of an answer to my call: the gem of no-cover entertainment that makes gluttonous intake of Bud Light and "I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THE MUSIC" conversations worth my while.

The hunt is on again tonight in the Tap Bar of the Knitting Factory. A skinny Jewish guy from the Upper West Side is swinging around the back of the room with a woman twice his size who's in town from Oklahoma.

Oklahoma: "You're pretty good for an ex-Deadhead New Yorker."

Grace land: transforming the Knit into a honky-tonk Shangri-La
photo: Jay Muhlin
Grace land: transforming the Knit into a honky-tonk Shangri-La

The Jack Grace Band is stuffed up on a platform, and lead guy Jack Grace is singing about spending someone else's money. He's looking out with crazy eyes at the long, narrow room from underneath a fisherman's cap.

It sounds as if Johnny Cash is playing frontman for the Allman Brothers, and it's fucking splendid. Grace's voice is as deep and dark as a cave as it bellows out from a background of tight and dirty wheaty-sweet sounds.

The first set is going faster than grits on a Sunday, and we've heard some covers—classics from Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. It's good eatin'; Grace can do justice to the classics.

But it's his originals that make folks who stumbled into the wrong room decide not to go to the basement to hear the band that brought them to Tribeca in the first place. In Grace's ditties, we get an amusingly straight-faced delivery of lyrics that are Tom Waits-smart and tough as a black-clad cowboy over melodies that work like bait. "I'm gonna buy me a big old house/Land a woman for the couch/Take that place and burn it to the ground."

I want to shoot whiskey with this guy.

We have a go at it on the set break, and I am right. Whiskey with a crazy-eyed cowboy passes the time easy. Jack and me talk shop.

Jack: "Most any music needs to be Salty to be Good."

Two whiskeys later, Grace is back onstage. New York and Oklahoma are at it again while bassist Poppa J. Granelli smiles big.

What's this?

A country-funked version of "Rapper's Delight." "Rapper's Delight" with Russ Meissner on drums and Bob Hoffnar on, oh my, pedal steel. Old school's never sounded so good, and A-Team-fed '80s kids from bar stool to bar stool couldn't be happier.

Mid-second set, we're inside of another Grace original. "Well, you never know when things might go wrong/In a single day you lose your women and song/The next thing you know it's just pennies a day on a worm farm."

Seventy percent of the people in the room are tapping feet and looking around with "I get it" smiles trying to make sure someone else is catching all these clever lines. Others have joined New York and Oklahoma, and are kept twirling by Sweet Melody alone.

Yes, the Jack Grace Band gives me handsome music with my beer.

 
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