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Gateway City’s Beth Bombara Brings New Music To Finally Friday

Beth Bombara
Virginia Harold
Beth Bombara

Roots music fans likely saw the news circulate a few weeks ago that “Beatle Bob” Matonis died at 70 years old, ending a life of music fandom and dancing like no other. He seemed to be everywhere in the 90s and 2000s, but his home base was St. Louis. Because St. Louis punches above its weight as a music scene. It was the launch pad for Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt back in the day. It’s home now to Americana pioneer reporting station KDHX 88.1 FM and to the long running Twangfest.

St. Louis is also the home base of songwriter and band leader Beth Bombara, who cruises into Nashville this week for Finally Friday. She’ll mingle her talents with the R&B of Alex Harris and the songwriting of young Jake Ybarra. So here’s the outlook.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know Beth over the past few years. She’s a great hang, and whether in person or making music, she is the essence of believable. I trust her guiding me through a song in a way that reminds me of my connection to Amanda Anne Platt or Laura Cantrell. She’s been in bands since her high school days in Grand Rapids, MI and settled in St. Louis for what she thought was a temporary stay more than a decade ago, about the time she started leading her own band and chasing her future on stage and on the road.

"I just never left because it's such a cool place," she told me in a 2019 interview. "For the size of the city there's a good diverse group of roots musicians there and the community is super supportive of the arts. So being there, I felt really surrounded and encouraged to keep playing and pushing that envelope." And the city paid her back with accolades and an audience; she’s been named best Americana act there multiple times, and her albums have shown growth. Bombara has followed up 2019’s Evergreen with It All Goes Up, a 10-song set that No Depression says “deserves wide acclaim,” while widely acclaiming it.

I’ve been seduced by the single “Everything I Wanted,” a head-bobbing rumination on money and contentment with a cool and quirky George Harrison-ish guitar solo. She sizzles with distortion on “Give Me A Reason,” not the only moment where she’s redolent of Aimee Mann. Her take is that “There's more light, more hope in this record, and it feels more positive sonically, as well.” Things are all looking up for Beth!

Next up is Alex Harris, an emerging stylist with a classic soul/R&B outlook. He came of age in church music and a touring family band out of his native Georgia. He supplemented his musical growth by studying psychology, theology and social work all the way through graduate work at Harvard and a PhD from the University of Florida. So he mingles his singles with human services work and arts education for kids. He sees music as “a gift to humanity,” and that healthy vibe comes through on his 2020 EP Frequency and his July single “Lose My Religion,” a graceful fusion of the sacred and secular made with Bay Area band Monophonics.

Making his second Finally Friday appearance this year is 25-year-old Jake Ybarra, a songwriter whose 2023 album Something In The Water has emerged as one of the finest debuts of the year. I’m loving it. I can hear his Texas roots and his passion for the canonical Lone Star State song craftsmen. There’s also a personal confidence and a crisp musical language that may come from his time living in Nashville. I’m really glad the album got on my radar via Finally Friday, for its thoughtful and moving story songs like “No Reason Or Right,” about the discovery of a century-old correspondence between two long gone lovers. Jake's excellent voice, quality tunes and packed schedule indicates good things ahead.

As always the music starts at noon at 3rd & Lindsley. Entry is free. Lunch is served.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org