Great Divide at Rockwood Music Hall, New York

“Down by the river,” a common phrase in Mississippi Delta music. It makes a fair amount of sense–riverside bars and taverns, busting with harmonica and guitar solos, filled with fishermen and dock workers. Everything was by the river and about the river. Every piece of music had the same pace as the river itself, mixed in traditions of soul, gospel, and blues. And this is what the band Great Divide tries to emulate, with some success.

I saw Great Divide at the Rockwood Music Hall, a small venue that stages its bands in what amounts to a raised corner. They played to a packed house of what I have to assume are serious fans. I imagine handsome lead singer Teddy Grossman has something to do with that, but the band also makes a serious effort to play popular music in the simplest sense.

Probably the most noticeable distinguishing mark of Great Divide is their horn section, which provides an able rhythm to the songs, with strong solos in some of the songs. Too often, you find horns simply agreeing with the melody without adding anything, but not here. The guitar and percussion is competent, but without any surprises.

The start of the set was the usual gearing-up; songs about their favorite locales (St. Paul in this instance), gospel call-and-response with the audience (“O Happy Day”), and takes on the American dream (“I need a fast dream”). You quickly get a full look at Great Divide’s style and range, which has a pretty singular direction.

I’ll also point out a workable cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Please Don’t Break My Heart.” While Teddy isn’t seasoned enough to pull off Marvin’s sorrow or want, the band does the song justice with angry horns and persistent guitars.

The band, while lacking a serious original streak, is professional beyond its years. Every element of the band is tightly played, though I couldn’t hear the piano as well as I would have liked. This professionalism, along with what is a fairly standard style and setlist, might be boring in the hands of another band. And while some songs drone, specifically “Shine,” the band doesn’t strike me as another river rock band. Great Divide’s verve and well-paced joy help them be better than mediocre.

The last set showed the most promise. “Autumn Leaves” has the feel of a Gavin DeGraw single without aping his style or structure. The guitar work speaks to a more nuanced side of the band, but still falls a bit short of actually blowing you away. Last, their single “Ain’t No Roads,” is the kind of blues anthem you finish a show with, half rambling joyride and half call to friends-in-arms. It sums up their style without being too predictable.

Great Divide is a river pop band with a lot of potential laid over an established set of skills. Hopefully, their burgeoning popularity will push them in the right direction.