I am Night Witch: Swooping over the devastation just one more time – Jon Aird’s Review of 2023

Photo: J. Aird

Surely this is it, no? After 13…soon to be 14…years of doing nothing this must be the last Christmas for a decade at least in which we’ll have to suffer the ineptitude of a government that can’t get anything done even when they have a huge majority.  New railways?  Well HS2 is gone to all intents and purposes, and the East West Railway seemingly lined up next for the chop.  Schools full of RAC falling down because they’ve been left up too long  – and the budget for their repair frittered away on the Free Schools (remember them?), of which over 65 have closed representing ~£150Million wasted.  You’ll notice that 40 new hospitals haven’t been built.  We’ve also decided to kick tackling climate change down the road a bit further – the grandkids can sort it out!  And please don’t ask about the Rwanda scheme – which even were it to start would need (at the widely quoted 300 transports per year) a mere 100 years to clear the current backlog of “small boat” arrivals – up that to 3 centuries to clear the whole unprocessed back-log.  Genius!  And it’ll only cost £50Billion (or more) at today’s money.  Is there not a single numerate person in the government?

Oh heck, thank goodness for music, eh?  There has to be some way to retain sanity in the sight of the world’s madness.  And what a year of music it has been.  Proper albums have been flowing at an incredible pace, as preparation for the overwhelming tsunami of tours and gigs in 2023 as the musical world made an attempt to make up for the impact of the last few years.  So many that it was a case of pick and choose, not helped out by the government ensuring that the rail strikes continued (you know, they could have made the same deal they ended up doing a mere year and a half earlier – they even admitted it would have been cheaper to have done so.  Oh, for numeracy and logic).  Aldous Harding was a little baffling at The Barbican – but John Grant was magnificent with his take on the Patsy Cline “songbook”.  Tom Russell again took to the stage as usual at the 100 Club, Laura Veirs made a rare and brief tour of the UK, and it was great to see Devon Sproule again after so many years.

The other problem was the recurring one of too much music too little time – The National put out two albums this year which have not had the attention they deserve,  Tim Smith’s return as Harp was a welcome one.  Beth Bombara rocked reliably, and there were several archive releases from Dylan that impressed.  Kim Moberg’s ‘The Seven Fires Prophecy‘ should have made the Top 10 albums list, an impressive album.

The lists below – especially the songs – are speculative at best.  They are true right now – tomorrow, maybe slightly different.  As ever they represent only the thoughts of this Deputy Editor, and are not Americana UK’s official statement on the matter.

Top 10 Gigs

1. Long Ryders: 229, London.  The Long Ryders had a new album and a lot of power when tackling older songs.  As good as they were in the Eighties, but with the added zing of even greater musicianship.  One of the best gigs ever.
2. Kassi Valazza: Slaughtered Lamb, London.  Only just not the gig of the year, one of the standout artists of 2023 – bigger venues beckon.
3. Julian Taylor: Moth Club, Green Note, Water Rats.  All in London.  In many ways 2023 was the year of Julian Taylor with a first UK appearance at the AmericanaFest, followed up by a solo appearance at the Green Note and a triumphant blast of a gig with just a wonderful band at Water Rats.
4. Bonny Light Horseman: The Barbican, London. The addition of an orchestra brought an extra layer of magic to a band who are at the top of their game and having a blast.
5. Lucinda Williams: The Barbican, London,  Unbelievably strong set from a true Americana survivor.
6. Dream Syndicate: Colours, London.  Another band from the Eighties who have no intention of slowing up.  Always impressive, and the addition of a Bangle on bass making the night just that bit more special.
7. Diana Jones: Slaughtered Lamb, London.  One of the greatest voices, in such a small venue.  Unbelievably good.
8. Josh Ritter: St Pancras Old Church, London.  Solo, in a tiny venue – what could be better?
9. Nora Brown & Stephanie Coleman: The Green Note, London.  Ensuring that American folk music has a bright future, so impressive and with such a long career ahead.
10. Sarah Jarosz: Lafayette, London and Junction 2, Cambridge.  A pair of gigs very close together – Lafayette was an impressive set, the similar set list in Cambridge had a very different feel, a smaller venue and the last night of the tour made for a more relaxed performance.  Enjoyable in different ways.

Top 10 Albums

1. Kassi Valazza – Knows Nothing
2. Margo Cilker – Valley of Heart’s Delight
3. Fruit Bats -A River Running To Your Heart
4. Long Ryders – September November
5. The Handsome Family – Hollow
6. Rachel Kilgour -My Father Loved Me
7. Jeffrey Martin – Thank God We Left The Garden
8. P. G. Six -Murmur & Whispers
9. Deer Tick – Emotional Contracts
10. Large Plants – The Thorn

Top 10 Songs

1. Watching Planes Go By – Kassi Valazza
2. Back To Me – Laura Zarougian
3. P.G. Six – Tell Me Death
4. Fruit Bats – Waking Up In Los Angeles
5. Deer Tick – Once In A Lifetime
6. The Handsome Family – Skunks
7. Margo Cilker – Mother Told Her Mother Told Me
8. Kathryn Tickell & The Darkening – High Way To Hermitage
9. Julian Taylor – Georgia Moon
10. Lola Wild – Get Up

Pros

Cons

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About Jonathan Aird 2689 Articles
Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?
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