Despite some of America’s best-known and most influential singer-songwriters arising from LA’s fertile music community, we do not really have the reputation for nurturing deep, standard-setting songwriters that both Austin and Nashville enjoy. Yet exemplary local artists such as Claire Holley, Ted Russell Kamp, Jason Mandell, Sam Morrow, Chris Pierce, David Serby, Rick Shea, Brian Whelan and Jaime Wyatt — to name just a few — continue to hone their storytelling craft here, deepening their performance skills in other projects between their own under-the-radar shows and out-of-state tours.
Shea, a longtime favorite son of Covina, started out playing honky-tonk bars and truck stops around San Bernardino, and has been a steady, respected presence in the LA roots/country scene since the 1980s. His rep as a strong, tasteful guitarist was burnished in the early 2000s as a member of Dave Alvin’s lively Guilty Men band, and respect for his songwriting finesse has broadened over the course of 10 fine solo albums. His latest, last year’s “The Town Where I Live,” beautifully conveys the hardships, joys and humor of family and working-class life.
One of his greatest attributes as an artist is his humility; who needs to be flashy when you can you just amble onstage and show it’s done? Pushing ego aside also serves the subjects of his songs, whether he’s depicting East LA mariachi musicians, a former songwriting partner, or legendary ghosts.
This Saturday, he will return to the Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena to share those melodic songs during a promising evening with Austin friend Terry Klein, whom Shea describes as “a stunningly beautiful songwriter.” Both men subtly evoke natural environments that speak to the dynamics of constancy and change. Blending wry humor with sharp-eyed observations about human nature, Klein numbers like “Dull Women Keep Immaculate Homes,” “Oklahoma” and “Watchman” suggest he closely studied Texan forebears like Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell (who has tipped his professional hat to Klein’s work) and Robert Earl Keen. Hopefully at Saturday’s show he will pull out “Sagamore Bridge” from his forthcoming album “Tex,” which manages to compress a novel’s worth of class divides, generation gaps, addiction and heedless overdevelopment into one smartly phrased ballad.
Think of it as a heartening pre-pre-New Year’s Eve gathering with friends, trading stories and a joke or three while wondering what fresh challenges the new year will bring. Reservations recommended.
Rick Shea and Terry Klein perform at the Coffee Gallery Backstage, 2029 N. Lake Ave., Altadena, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29; $20. Reservations/info: (626) 798-6236. rickshea.com, terrykleinmusic.com, coffeegallery.com