In Greenwich, Dave Sutherland takes the train to Georgia.
The Americana experience can be elusive. Sometimes, it requires a bit of magic. During the break in a Clifton Chenier performance at a parish fundraiser in Richmond, California, you got a taste of gumbo. When Roger McGuinn told the origin stories of songs at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, you learnt about the roots of Americana. You got a glimpse into the American heartland as you watched ‘Escanaba In Da Moonlight’ with a cold brewsky and a yooper pasty. And then there was Dave Sutherland, playing for his neighbours at the Morden Arms in Greenwich, to celebrate his new album ‘The Last Drop of Empty’.
The stage was a well-worn carpet in the corner by a woodstove with firewood stacked ready for a cold evening. But there was no need for a fire, the place was packed. The crowd tended to be older. There were members of the ‘aint been straight since 68’ tribe, a middling amount of the middle aged and a handful of hipsters. The crowd made the gig as cosy as a family potluck when everybody shows up, including the reclusive bachelor uncles and the dancing grannies. And they were all there for the music.
Sutherland’s performance was unadorned, just him and a few guitars. But that was all that was needed. The man has presence. Not the energetic insouciance of a rising rockstar, but the easy nonchalance of someone who knows what he can do cause he’s been doing it well for a while.
Sutherland’s guitar work is a great joy, no matter if he’s playing a waltz or a ballad. He plays clean, hitting notes like a bell, and his hands are a delight, moving up and down the frets with one hand, picken with the other. His voice is distinctive –can’t really say ‘he sounds like _____’ (I just can’t think of any name to fill in the blank). When he is singing, he has slight American accent with just a hint of country, not Nashville or Georgia, more like Cincinnati, Ohio or Belleville, Illinois. When speaking he is clearly London. When asked where he got his singing accent, he said “it just comes out that way when I sing.” It works, it matches his lyrics.
He writes songs that tell stories, which combine travels in the US with deep British roots. They are rich stories. ‘Dreaming of Beautiful Girls’ captures the fascination and frustration of an ordinary young man thinking of genetically gifted young women. When he sings about taking the freight train to Georgia, you can almost see the red clay dust as you look out the carriage window. ‘From the Vauxhall Tavern to the Deptford Broadway’ captures the allure of nostalgia. ‘Damaged’ is a poetic plea to recover the hope of youth and escape life’s toll.
See Sutherland if you can, he conjures up that Americana magic. His songs have the pain, joy and hint of humor that make his art and craft authentic, whether on the banks of the Tennessee or the Thames.
1 Trackback / Pingback