Perhaps it was appropriate that a freight train roared through the heart of Johnson City as Rob Russell and the Sore Losers struck their first chords Saturday night at Halo. After all, it was an anniversary party and the loud horn echoing through the streets seemed to trumpet a positive direction for this great band and venue.

It’s been a year since Halo on Main Street in Downtown Johnson City opened its doors. This trendy venue is the dream of a pair of divas that are building quite a buzz around town with great entertainment and cheap beverages amid a stylish indoor/outdoor ambience.

Last year, Rob and the boys christened Halo, and this year, what we heard was a “leaner-meaner” band that’s got great original music and polished like a ’70 Chevelle with a 454 that’s ready for the Rod Runs.

We arrived early and was surprised to see that Halo seemed slow. I wondered if I had once again made a mistake, but the sign on the wall led us to the patio where about 150 people were gathered on a balmy September night with amps, mics and guitars leaning on their stands and the Phattie drum kit, all by itself, lit by a few gels and ready to play.

Travis Stuart opened the performance around 10 p.m. He’s the former bass player for The Losers and as he explained, “I thought I fell in love and moved to Jackson.” Now he’s back … got a new band in the works named Horace and opened the show on acoustic guitar with several original songs of his own.

I spoke to Rob while Travis was on stage and he was looking better than ever, drinking a “Red Bull” loaded with caffeine. GoTriCities had worked with The Losers during Fun Fest and we talked about the band’s recent performances. They are working toward expanding their identity and have been playing many one-nighters from Memphis to Roanoke with songs, CDs and T-shirts in tow.

After the train whistle settled, Rob grabbed the mic with Dave Hart on guitar, Josh Reifert on bass and Rob’s little brother Andy on the drum kit and they rolled out their signature Americana rock ’n’ roll to a diverse, ripe audience.

I’m certain the reason that Rob has a lot of fans is the fact that he’s simply a great song writer. Every one of the songs they performed tonight had great hooks, melodies and are poetic packages that are easy to sing along with.

The band plays with so much conviction they remind me of a Pentecostal road show ready to spread the word. Dave’s harmony to Rob’s voice was great tonight and it’s not a stretch of the imagination to hear Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Van Morrison and Elvis Costello in their music.

The new CD, “I Think We’re Gonna Be All right” is a must-have for your CD collection of bands born and bred in East Tennessee. Each song has a lyrical sophistication that earns this band the recognition they deserve. The fact that they reproduce this music so well live tells me that there’s a lot more to their music than what you can sculpt in a studio.

Rob sings about loneliness, love lost, wasting time and moving on and those are things we can all relate to. His voice is powerful and comes from deep down in his heart and you can’t help but appreciate his natural talent.

Our favorite songs for the night were “Come Down Here,” “Every Little Thing” and “The Phone Call.” It’s also good to sing along with “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet,” The Losers mantra that steers their humble persona. We also enjoyed a couple of memorable covers from Bruce Springsteen and a rockin’ version of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons.”

I often hear people complaining there is nothing to do in the Tri-Cities and that is so wrong! There are great bands and places to explore all over and the only thing missing is a little personal momentum. Do yourself a favor this weekend and enjoy the talent in our area. If you’re in Johnson City check out Halo and see who’s on stage. These girls have an intriguing nightspot that is sure to continue its success.

If you see Rob Russell and The Sore Losers on the marquee, anywhere in the Tri-Cities, put everything on the shelf and treat yourself to one of the best songwriters in the area. This band is polished and ready to head out of town on that outbound train and on to bigger and better venues and we wish them the best.

Buy the new CD from Rob Russell at area record stores and check them out on the Web at mp3.com/robrusell. You may also find mp3s at gotricities.com/music.

Rob Russell and The Losers will be at the Sophisticated Otter on Oct. 4 and on Halloween at Cahootenannies, also in Johnson City.

Check out The Buzz at gotricities.com/thebuzz for news this week on:

  • New song from Chip Russell of “Responsible Curtis.”
  • Rumors continue to fly about the reopening of The Casbah.
  • Electronic space music from Amaranth Signal.

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David Cate is new media director for the GoTriCities Network. E-mail him at dcate@gotricities.net.