FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Esteemed music critic and Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts once called Grayson Hugh “the greatest singer-songwriter you just may not have heard.”
You can change that March 11 when the acclaimed Danbury-based musician and his band, The Moon Hawks, and Redding teenage guitar phenom Bobby Paltauf bring their Rock & Soul Explosion to the Fairfield Theatre Company.
“It’s going to be a good time,” said Hugh, relaxing in Paltauf’s hilltop home.
Best known for his early international hits, including “Talk It Over” and “Bring It All Back,” Hugh created songs for such blockbuster films as “Thelma and Louise” and “Fried Green Tomatoes.” With four albums and two gold records to his name, he has been lauded by critics who compare him to soul legends Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.
Hugh was drawn to music as a boy, taking up drums and saxophone, but favoring keyboards. Classically trained, he knew where his heart was headed when he bought his first Ray Charles album at age 10.
“Rock & roll and soul won out,” he said. “I’m really always drawn back to soul.”
Critic Howard Dukes praised Hugh’s most recent album, 2015’s “Back to the Soul” for “keeping it real.”
“With his feet firmly rooted in the soul and blues of Memphis and New Orleans, Hugh has crafted a record that is about as eloquently biographical as a music project can be,” Dukes wrote.
Hugh’s new band consists of himself on lead vocals, piano and organ, Tyger MacNeal on drums, Anthony Candullo on bass, Hugh’s wife Polly Messer on harmony vocals and 17-year-old Paltauf on guitar.
Paltauf will be doing double duty for the night, as his Bobby Paltauf Band will open the show.
The Joel Barlow High School senior started playing when he was about 7, drawn to his dad’s love of classic rock, such as Led Zeppelin.
By the time he was 12, he found himself at the Ridgefield Playhouse, which his aunt owns, listening to blues legend Buddy Guy. Guy had heard about Paltauf’s chops and asked him to join him on stage.
“I was, like, really nervous,” Paltauf said with a smile.
Hugh said he couldn’t believe his ears the first time he heard the teen play.
“You close your eyes and you think you’re listening to a veteran star like B.B. King or Steve Cropper with decades of playing under their belt,” he said. “He’s got an old soul musically.”
Formed in 2013, The Bobby Paltauf Band has introduced its blend of rock, funk, fusion and reggae to major music festivals, opening for The Revivalists, Twiddle and Dumpstaphunk, among others.
At just 17, Paltauf is often the youngest person in a band or jam session.
“I’ve pretty much always played with older people,” he said. “It’s never really a concern. Does it sound great? Was it fun? That’s what I care about.”
Doors open at the FTC concert at 7 p.m., March 11. The show starts at 7:45 p.m. Tickets are $22 in advance, $25 on the day of the show. For tickets, visit fairfieldtheatre.org .