Karl Blau + The Empty House Band, The Boileroom, Guildford, 24th August 2017

Karl Blau took to the stage adorned in a dark suit that was splashed and stained with Jackson Pollock like whitewash. It’s a decent bet that the suit is something created by himself and indicative in a way of his career path. Based in the small town of Anacortes in Washington State, oyster farmer Blau (and his many associated bands) made many a record as part of the eclectic Knw-Yr-Own/K-Roc Records collective. His introduction to the larger market came via Bella Union’s aptly titled 2016 covers compilation Introducing Karl Blau with many of the songs from that collection featured in tonight’s show.

Aided by the guitar and pedal steel of John Hyde and bassist Doug Cassidy they launched into Tommy Cash’s Six White Horses and then Tom T Hall’s That’s How I Got to Memphis. Link Wray’s Fallin’ Rain and Townes Van Zandt’s If I Needed You followed suit. They play what Karl determines as “elders songs” such as that of Anacortes’ local Bryan Elliot and his 80’s folk punk band The Few with Rolling Like The Tide summoning the small coastal town vibe well.

One new song was played from his forthcoming Out Her Space LP. Karl informed us it was recorded with Matthew E White and his Space Bomb collective and is something slightly twisted yet “dipped in country gravy”. The song’s title I didn’t catch but ‘they don’t know about cars’ forms its chorus and we’re ramblingly told it is an ode to the local goats.

No Regrets, the Tom Rush classic was covered in part but sadly abandoned due to mid song forgetfulness. A little embarrassed they asked for requests and played Rub It In by Layng Martine Jnr. (his son Tucker Martine produced the Introducing LP) followed by another Layng tune Let The World Go By. Crashing Waves, from the 2006 LP Beneath Waves was a further request. The night ended with an encore, a version of the Gibb Brothers To Love Somebody.

The set was ragged in parts with some signs of tour van fever setting in – “we’re so rock, we embroider” declared guitarist John alluding to his own self decorated jacket. The next tour would benefit from a full band & fuller sound. But there’s no doubting Blau’s talent and things bode well for the future. The new LP and a coinciding small UK tour is advertised for late November.

Support came in the shape of The Empty House Band. A five piece from the Chesham & Guildford areas with strong lead vocals aided by nice twin guitarists/supporting vocalists. Their sound is more akin to USA roots pop (think Lumineers strum meets Gin Blossoms ballad). Finding their way onto UK radio may prove tough, but good luck to them all the same.

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