Americana Music Fest, organised by the Americana Music Association UK, is two glorious nights of artist showcases that take place from about 6PM until almost midnight in a half dozen venues. That’s a lot of acts to catch, with a lot of choices to be made – here’s what David Chalfin selected.
Playing at Night Tales on the Tuesday night, David Wax Museum were a quirky trio, he (Mr Wax) has a plaintive laid back style, she (Suz Slezak – partners in music and life) has some haunting turns on the fiddle in the more downcast songs whilst switching to accordion on the punchier tunes, with hints of The Lowest Pair in their ambience. A highlight is ‘Uncover The Gold’, a reflection on the notorious Far Right March in 2017 in their hometown of Charlottesville Virginia, delivered with anguish; it has a fine video worth checking out too. Harvard alumnus Wax describes his intro to Americana via Paul McCartney singing ‘Rocky Raccoon’.
Coincidentally they are followed by a contemporary Merseysider singing US influenced material on the same stage. Playing with the full supporting quintet from his upcoming brand new album ‘In This Town You’re Owned’, Robert Vincent book-ended a selection of newies with a trio from his 2018 album, ‘I’ll Make The Most Of My Sins’. ‘So In Love’ was a stirring opener, swirling strings interplaying with the violin of Robbie Taylor. ‘In This Town’ is a new standout, as is ‘Riot’s Cry’ which has a punchy intro leading into a collar-grabbing riff that the band take on an interesting instrumental path between the taut lyrics. One of his finest. ‘My Name Is Ghost’ is more concise, chugging along with a skiffle backdrop. ‘Demons’ closes the set, sonically sharing the same appealing territory with the opener but lyrically presenting a very different emotional state, as to be expected from a man who sees his role as nothing less than describing the human condition, both on the individual level and how it sits within the wider social community – whether Liverpool or elsewhere.
Hollie Rogers closed the night. Stylistically akin to KT Tunstall, or a slightly edgy Texas, she has a powerful and enticing vocal over smoothly crafted cross-genre folk/rock/pop songs that have justifiably drawn praise from some legends and a Bob Harris Under The Apple Tree session. She features on the universal Café Nero playlist so is hitting many people’s ears. Songs like ‘Girl On A Mission’ and ‘I’ll Find Love’ give clues as to why; the former hitting that pop/rock/indie sweet spot with enough pizzazz to bring Blondie to mind, the latter showing off quality Fleetwood Mac tropes. She also offered a box of cookies to the audience – a novel and welcome twist, which may need rationalising if stadium gigs ever beckon.
Wednesday saw a set of gems at Moth Club under the Canada House banner courtesy of CIMA (Canadian Independent Music Association) which interestingly receives state government funding to help nurture and promote roots music, and the number and quality of Canadian artists performing in the UK shows it’s working well. The provincial slant this year was Prince Edward Island (PEI), the Eastern maritime area. Geographically, it’s just about the first sea bound port of call if one swung across the North Atlantic from Ireland or Scotland, as many did of course, and culturally one can detect the influences in tonight’s musical offerings. With barely 150,000 residents, it punches above its musical weight. There’s a Celtic influence to varying degrees in the instrumentation and the lyrical themes often centre around seashores, winds and cold winters, fishing communities and the hard, risk-laden lives that come with the territory. First up was Catherine MacLellan, playing solo acoustic and drawing from her extensive back catalogue as well as her latest album, ‘Coyote’. ‘The Tempest’ captures the PEI lifestyle poignantly, as does ‘Waiting On My Love’, with its observations about snow falling through spring, and is followed by a candid song detailing how she hooked up with her partner via the Canadian musical community.
She was followed by fellow PEI troubadour Lennie Gallant, fittingly, one of her own inspirations when MacLellan was starting out. His Celtic-influenced songs feature winding insightful narratives, such as ‘Which Way Does The River Run’, ‘47 Angels’ and ‘Pieces of You’ which clicks along with a Petty like riff. ‘Sequoia’ was another highlight, violin support from Alicia Toner (who had herself played a fine set the previous night in the same venue) adding depth to this tribute to the stolidity of this famously durable tree, whilst ‘Peter’s Dream’ transfers the local seafaring trope to the Sea of Galilee in dream form.
Hailing from a long way West we then had Megan Nash. Anyone in the creative world who can introduce herself as a native of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan has a lively start, and Ms Nash fully delivers on this promising provenance. She has a truly one-off stage presence, staying on the engaging side of eccentricity. Highlights include ‘Wait’ and ‘Quiet’, which is anything but. The band set up of lead and rhythm guitar, bass and drums hints at what is the most ‘trad’ rock line up, and the sound is a searing melange of Lera Lynn, Marissa Nadler with the candour of Margo Price. A real eye opener.
Moving to the Yep Roc showcases had Michaela Anne who is one of the heralded acts and her set fills out Oslo, the biggest of the venues across the festival. Her latest album ‘Desert Dove’ has captured wide attention and she is in tremendous form. Coincidentally she works from a similar musical palette to Caroline Spence who has made a simultaneous breakthrough, with tones of Emmylou Harris in her Red Dirt Girl era. It’s built around her remarkably rich and lush voice and thick chunky guitars. The child of a US Submarine Officer, she describe how her itinerant upbringing gave her the source of many songs, such as ‘Child of the Wind’, where she was “everybody’s temporary friend.”
She was followed by Chatham County Line, all finely suited and booted with lead vocalist Dave Wilson in his white and cream togs looking like an affluent Southern Gent. They are built around a bluegrass foundation, with lashings of country rock on top along with some mighty fine playing across the quartet. Some provocative lyrics too in songs such as ‘Searching For the Queen Anne’ and ‘Birmingham Jail’, describing some of the ugly side of the attempts to stifle civil rights in the 1960s.
Photo of Alicia Toner : J. Aird. Other pics courtesy of Kendall Wilson