Courtney Marie Andrews, In-Store Performance, Rough Trade West, London. 12th April 2017

A true unplugged set this evening. Wearing a short olive dress and perched confidently on the record shop front desk, Courtney Marie Andrews was charming the 25 strong audience with cuts from the new LP. Without the piano and pedal steel of the album, the songs shift from the smooth neo-country textures and take on a surprising indie feel, perhaps explaining the Zane Lowe endorsement. Continue reading “Courtney Marie Andrews, In-Store Performance, Rough Trade West, London. 12th April 2017”

Holly MacVe + Will Stratton, St John on Bethnal Green, London E2 – 6th April 2017

Holly MacVe is 21. She grew up in Ireland, Yorkshire and Brighton yet she creates lonesome country songs hewn from the bedrock of Hank, Emmylou, Joni, Tammy and KD along with that of Lana Del Rey. A few of the dates on her current tour are in churches, this one being a fine Sir John Soane Italianate example built in 1820 and still a place of worship. Americana music is rooted in the church, in gospel and blues and the country folk of the god-fearing Appalachians so musically everything is perfect here. Support act Will Stratton changed the lyric in one of his songs for the occasion. “When I wrote this I was a hard line atheist, but I’m not so sure now “, he says, and he leaves the song hanging, questioning. His voice evokes the soft longing of classic American folk and there are glimpses of Paul Simon, Nick Drake and James Taylor too.  Continue reading “Holly MacVe + Will Stratton, St John on Bethnal Green, London E2 – 6th April 2017”

Colin Hay, Union Chapel, Islington, London 4th April 2017

When a panel voted recently on the best Australian songs of the modern era, three of the top ten were penned by Scots. The Easybeats’ “Friday On My Mind” topped the list, co-written by George Young whose brothers Angus and Malcolm were behind the number nine, AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to Rock”. Neither of these are overtly Aussie, which cannot be said of the song that came fourth, written by the man working the audience in
Upper St. tonight. Colin Hay, the solo troubadour behind the mike and behind the song in question (more of that later) was Men at Work’s founder and frontman who moved from Saltcoats in Scotland to Australia in his teens. However he has lived in California since the demise of the band, almost 35 years ago, making him more than qualified to deliver a new album “Fierce Mercy” where the influences of his adopted homeland come to the fore. He chats about inspiration – he cites Gene Pitney, the Walker Brothers and Roy Orbison but in addition to those, echoes of The Beach Boys, Jackson Browne and Bob Seger are all evident in this latest piece. Continue reading “Colin Hay, Union Chapel, Islington, London 4th April 2017”

Over The Rhine, Cecil Sharp House, London, Sunday 2nd April 2017

On Sunday night, Over The Rhine brought their uniquely American sound to the home of English Folk Music. The Kennedy Hall in Cecil Sharp House is an imposing room and appeared to be full. While their albums and live shows in the U.S often feature a full band the essence of Over The Rhine is Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler as a duo, mixing voices, piano & acoustic guitars. What struck me after hearing their live recordings was the emotional power of Karin’s singing on Born and Latter Days. On recent songs Linford shares the vocals more and this lends a warmth and intimacy to the songs, they often seem sing to each other as much as to the audience.

Continue reading “Over The Rhine, Cecil Sharp House, London, Sunday 2nd April 2017”

South By Southwest Festival 2017. Austin, Texas

I normally advise Americana-loving friends who enquire about sxsw simply to visit Austin at any time of the year and check out venues like the Broken Spoke or the Saxon Pub to get the authentic Austin feel. You’ll be sure to see the likes of Jon Dee Graham, William Harries Graham, Bob Schneider, Darden Smith, James McMurtry and other such stalwarts of the scene. But there are certain sxsw American events that are unique to that week and are not to be missed.

The Yard Dog Gallery on South Congress has a yard at the back which is covered by a gazebo during sxsw and it is really worth spending a whole afternoon there, because the music is invariably top notch and the audience respectful and very much “up for it”. A common characteristic of all the places I shall describe is the superhuman amount of alcohol consumed. I’m by no means teetotal but I tell you, the amount these guys put away is mind-boggling. Nursing a three dollar local IPA, I was hugely entertained by a highly-wired Austin Lucas (whose Alone In Memphis always brings a lump to the throat), who also duetted with Mara Connor. Continue reading “South By Southwest Festival 2017. Austin, Texas”

The Handsome Family, Folkestone Quarterhouse: 4th March 2017

Tonight The Handsome Family arrive in town to play to a near capacity crowd at Folkestone’s Quarterhouse. Most it seems, are committed fans of the band although some like me have come along because the venue is on their doorstep and they have been lured by the penning of the darkly enthralling Far from any Road, from the equally darkly enthralling series ‘True Detective’. Continue reading “The Handsome Family, Folkestone Quarterhouse: 4th March 2017”

The Handsome Family, The Union Chapel, London, 2nd March 2017

Brett and Rennie Sparks brought a four-piece Handsome Family to The Union Chapel for one of those rare evenings that truly deserve the accolade “magical”. Demonstrating the ability for even a little television exposure to change the size of an audience The Handsome Family have stepped up to a considerably larger venue than on previous tours, and one that couldn’t be more in keeping with their music – on an early March evening when the shadows draw in quickly there could have been no better frame for their musical paintings of the strange, mystical and plain bizarre in American life. Continue reading “The Handsome Family, The Union Chapel, London, 2nd March 2017”