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Sunday, December 28, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Overcast
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The New Kentucky Quarter says farewell to Madison
Cabin and Gabriel Reed help with the goodbyes at Café Montmartre
The New Kentucky Quarter
Credit:Kiki Schueler

The New Kentucky Quarter (TNKQ) is breaking up under the best possible circumstances. Unlike many bands whose dissolutions are marked by infighting or declining release quality, everyone in the band still likes each other, and their last EP, the terrific Carry It Around, was every bit as remarkable as its predecessor Simple Things. No, the band is simply going their separate ways as lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Ron Walters begins law school in Minneapolis this fall. That didn't make their swan song Friday night at Café Montmartre any less poignant, though.

In fact, the swell of applause that brought them back to the stage even after Walters announced he only had the voice left for the final song indicated that Madison wasn't quite ready to let them go. I know I certainly wasn't. I covered a TNKQ show early in my tenure at the regional music paper Rick's Café, and they were my first solid evidence that there really was such a thing as great local music. Since that time I've discovered a wealth of terrific artists, but they were my first and for that they will always hold a special place.

The secret of their success is the intertwining vocals of Walters and keyboardist Abby Zdrale, the latter of whom sounded particularly terrific. Or maybe it was just the first time I could actually hear her in the mix. You can count the number of shows they have played this year on one hand, yet with only an afternoon practice today in preparation, they've never sounded tighter.

Guitarist Justin Bricco, one of three generations of Briccos at the show, played with his usual impressive flair. Even so, he never overwhelmed Walters or the heart-breakingly gorgeous songs. This was never more apparent than on the title track, where Bricco's snaking guitar line only underscored the musical question of the night, "If you don't want it, why would you carry it around?"

Their eighty minute set covered everything from unreleased new songs that will be part of a Walters solo disc to the very first song they ever played as a band (the haunting "Silver Thread"). He admits things have changed a lot since then, "back then it was only me and Kaleen and Abby in a basement." While his solo effort and the steamroll of Bricco and Adam Cargin's other band (the awesome Blueheels) will help relieve some of the pain, there's no denying TNKQ will be missed.

Gabriel Reed demonstrated that there is still plenty to get excited about around here in his opening set, meanwhile. He recently invited Jentri Collelo to add her bewitching vocals to several of his songs. Even though she'd only first heard the songs on Tuesday, she succeeded in adding depth to them, especially tracks from his Already Haunted EP (released under the name Ellestel).

Unfortunately the crowd at Montmartre didn't demonstrate much hospitality toward out-of-towners Cabin -- who are actually from Kentucky -- chatting loudly through their set of wistful chamber pop that occasionally recalled Margot and the Nuclear So & So's. At one point while plugging their merch, lead singer Noah Hewett-Ball sighed, "I might as well be speaking German." He shouldn't feel too badly, though, because unless you were TNKQ, tonight just wasn't about you.

Goodnight New Kentucky Quarter, I'm really going to miss you.

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