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Learning to Unplug With M Ross Perkins

For his latest feature, M Ross Perkins invited listeners to his first-ever acoustic performance, broadcasted live from his home studio. Those familiar with Perkins already know him for his genial and humble approach to showmanship, and the infectious sense of humor that burnishes both his speech and songwriting. These hallmarks were again on full display during his acoustic set, and dovetailing with the intimate and vulnerable nature of the performance, blossomed around the support beams of a musician’s equivalent to home field advantage.

A veritable Katamari ball of influences himself, it’s tempting to position the Dayton, Ohio-based musician and producer as some pre-/post-modern amalgamation of quintessential Americana: but even broad terms and hyper-specificity risk diluting the totality of Perkins’ artistry. Making his Blast Radio debut back in the final drag days of late August, Perkins appeared several times across the months, sharing demos and spinning sets of his favorite Dayton-derived music. But somewhere between Perkins requesting an imaginary stage manager to dim the lights, and the conversational banter to distract from each tuning, it was easy to imagine a crowded room hushed around him to the din of soft chatter.

“You’ll have to forgive me tonight too, my voice is a little bit thrashed,” Perkins offered up after finishing up his new song, “It’s Your Boy,” a track Perkins slyly revealed to be from his formerly-unannounced upcoming album, due to be released in the coming months. “I was at the Andy Gabbard Homemade [album] release party a couple of nights ago, and uh, absolutely shredded my voice; screaming at the top of my lungs, for my best buds up there on stage, just -- banging it out,” Perkins went on, setting aside a little space in his set to hype a fellow Colemine Records artist. While the evidence of vocal wear wasn’t the least bit recognizable as Perkins made his way through a heartfelt series of new and old tracks, his clear effort to water others in the artistic community paired comfortably with the spirit of his musical stylings.

There’s some confusion around the quote explaining the age-old crisis of creative influence. Whether you’re remembering Steve Jobs using Pablo Picasso to explain his business model, experiencing a vague college flashback about mature vs. immature poets as mused upon by that one guy who wrote Cats, or smiling smugly in self-assurance that “talent borrows; genius steals” is a well-known Oscar Wilde quip, there’s a lesson here about how the shifting sands of provenance, like fluids, take the shape of their container.

Perkins’ cover of the Sir Douglas Quintet song “I Don’t Want To Go Home” is perhaps the clearest example of how easily M Ross can slide chameleon-like into the twangier side of jangle, without completely eschewing his ‘60s psychedelic roots. While comparisons are frequently drawn to artists such as Harry Nilsson, Brian Wilson, and Emitt Rhodes, traces of Byrds-era Gram Parsons, Leon Russell, and Jason Isbell -- if he’d cut his teeth in Herman’s Hermits, instead of Drive-By Truckers -- start to come into focus as well alongside Perkins’ lonesome croon and precision-grade guitar work. Much like Guided By Voices DIY-wizard and fellow vampire on Titus, Robert Pollard, M Ross Perkins has managed to cultivate all the necessary skills to solely realize his complete artistic vision: as if Isbell and frequent producer Dave Cobb could be buttoned into the same embroidered shirt.

Between the immaculate production, stunning musicianship, and calming presence of the artist himself imbued in the recording, M Ross Perkins delivered a flawless encapsulation of what he’s capable of in his natural environment. With a new record announced, fresh earworms circulating among the Blast Radio community, and minds racing to imagine what shape the full versions will take, the moment feels supercharged for this long-budding pop virtuoso. Which makes sense: greatness, as we know, takes time; and when something’s difficult to pin down, there’s a good chance it’s the real deal.

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