Tonight’s gig marks the launch of Ida Mae’s debut full-length album, ‘Chasing Lights’, produced by UK West Country-based guru Ethan Johns. The Norwich husband and wife pair, Christopher Turpin and Stephanie Jean Ward, now live in Nashville but have penned the album’s material while split between Holloway, North London and touring in Mississippi. Indeed, North American touring has dominated their recent time with the duo racking up an epic 30,000 miles epic across the USA and Canada.
Turpin has trawled deeply into the canons of the likes of Leadbelly, Blind Willie McTell and Robert Johnson whilst Ward has done likewise with legends such as Bessie Smith, and this has enabled them to move on with greater musical independence from their previous indie incarnation of Kill It Kid. Turpin is quite the guitar whiz and has a compelling style, and in addition to the 1920’s and 30’s game changers mentioned above he has been influenced by the 1960s/70s likes of the Stones, Free, Led Zeppelin and Bad Company. He identifies as a ‘geek,’ but if the end result is this impassioned, then here’s to geekery. Anyone who has dipped into another current band on the rise, Crooked Weather (who veer slightly more towards a folkier take), will find some shared vibes here.
Their lyrics are a big part of the attraction; in ‘My Girl Is A Heartbreak’ we hear “My girl like sweet tea, she Nefertiti/She’s pulling triggers/ she be stand and deliver/ She feel electric, dance floor genetic” – which surely didn’t come easy and probably has a nodding acquaintance with The Beatles’ ‘Come Together.’ It is a thudding bluesy song and, easy comparison as it is, it has, instrumentally and vocally, a similar edge to the dynamic of The Civil Wars (though one hopes somewhat less fraught than the eventual Wars end up). ‘If You Don’t Love Me’ is an aching devotional love song, the singer offering to provide whatever warmth, light, company, energy or, indeed, progress through heavy traffic, that his partner seeks. ‘Love Is Still A Long Road’ is a tender song penned whilst the couple lived in one of Bath’s sleazier areas whilst ‘Reaching’ features Ward’s swooping wordless vocals as an extra instrument, fittingly as the song is inspired by their stay in a Bessie Smith memorial hospital in its converted state as a motel. ‘Ida Mae’ is the first number they wrote together and is pure blues, their vocals both on howling form. They follow this with ‘Chasing Lights’, a song about unrequited love, with Ward’s laidback keyboards enriching the sound on top of the acoustic guitar. They close with ‘Feel Them Getting Closer’ a powerful yet nuanced song, the vocals subdued at times, (“Cold skin, stolen keys, gravel track and bare knees”) soaring at other times, with echoes of Zep’s totemic ‘Whole Lotta Love.’