Live Review: Neilson Hubbard, Audrey Spillman Hubbard, Samuel James Taylor, The Sound Lounge, Sutton, 27th January 2023

The stage consisting of three chairs, three mics and two acoustic guitars served as a useful reminder that musical pleasure does not require a lot of kit. With a totally absorbing performance of songs and lively chat Neilson Hubbard, his wife Audrey Spillman Hubbard and Samuel James Taylor proved that joy comes so much from connecting with the audience. Introducing themselves Neilson Hubbard said they want to recreate the “in the round” approach of Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe. The Sound Lounge is ideally set up for that, the audience sitting around tables gave the whole place a relaxed intimate feel. Their welcome confirmed the three performers were very much among friends.

First up was Samuel James Taylor with the title track from his most recent album, ‘Wild Tales and Broken Hearts’. Starting from his Sheffield home Taylor has been writing, performing and releasing his music for two decades. His travels have taken him around the world and not always under his own name. One of his several side projects was with Rebecca Van Cleave as The Greatest Endangered Thing whose EP ‘And You, And Me’ is definitely worth checking out. With disarming honesty Taylor admitted how in making ‘Wild Tales and Broken Hearts’ he faced up to his deepening misgivings about music. He had begun to doubt just how much he had left in him musically. Was it worth continuing? Life on the road was taking a toll on his health. Equally openly he acknowledged the beneficial effects of working with Hubbard on the record, which, with a more measured lifestyle, has rescued his faith in music. That is a great relief because Taylor is an exceptionally talented writer and singer. In a voice that may have begun in Sheffield but now feels more at home in Appalachia, he pondered those tough times.

Neilson Hubbard needs little introduction. As well his own solo output Hubbard has produced so many artists. Alongside his music he has an impressive portfolio of photographic work. He has just published a book of photos titled ‘American South’ depicting a broad sweep of life there. Tonight he kicked off with ‘Cumberland Island’ from his eponymous album, an island off the coast of Georgia he and Audrey visited the day after they were married, where wild horses roam. Hubbard’s voice has an almost luminous quality that carries the listener to that mystical place, “where the wild horses roam” and, “wherever your road begins, I’ll follow to the end”.

In a preamble to her first song Audrey Spillman Hubbard talked about her love of jazz so perhaps it was no surprise that she chose ‘Summertime’. Stripped back, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar her version dripped with the heat of a New Orleans night. Sutton already seemed very far away.

Back to Taylor and so the rounds continued. It took a short interval to realise the hypnotic effect of these rotations. Vocally quite distinctive, their relaxed style belied the great thought they must have put into their selections. Taylor switched with ease from Christmas in the Blue Ridge Mountain home of his wife on ‘Churchville Avenue’ to his own roots in Sheffield with ‘Today is the Tomorrow We Were Promised Yesterday’. He outlined a late night on the number 97 bus. A quiet elderly gent became very angry about f….youth. Playing at a tempo that vividly evoked that bus lurching through the Sheffield night Taylor continued as he realised he was the only other passenger so the target of the man’s ire. Getting off at the same stop he recalled his fellow passenger’s drunken clarity. Taylor’s picking on ‘Time May Dance’ plucked him from the clutches of foul-mouthed inebriates and sat him on the porch in more relaxed surroundings.

Charles Dickens was perhaps an unlikely name to pop up this evening but Hubbard said ‘A Christmas Carol’ had been the inspiration for ‘End of the Road’, a song about coming to terms with getting older. A voice reduced almost to a whispers he implored, “let us take one last drive/ down to the end of the road”. From his many collaborations Hubbard went back to 2006 and his time with Matthew Ryan for ‘Love Don’t Owe You Anything’ and more recently with Matthew Perryman Jones who had introduced him to Audrey for ‘Save You’. Again his soft vocals added further sensitivity to the lyrics.

Describing ‘Austin Motel’ Spillman explained the strange place where she and Hubbard had stayed not long after they started dating. Picking up pace the song reveals two people getting to know each other and realising this was not your average road trip. On ‘Southern Cross’, co-written with Travis Meadows, Spillman conveys the anguish surrounding the south’s brutal history. Her gospel beginning built up into what became a field holler. A similar sense of history ran behind ‘White River’, from the ‘Buffalo Blood’ project she and Hubbard did with Dean Owens and Joshua Britt, the very dark story about the displacement of the Cherokee tribe.

During the evening all three had harmonised beautifully around various individual songs but to round off they performed ‘Sweetheart’ from The Orphan Brigade’s first album, the southern gothic ‘Soundtrack to a Ghost Story’. A rousing end to the evening, “Lord take my troubles away” was made for singing together in the round. A truly lovely evening that reinforced the ties that bind artist to audience.

All photos: Lyndon Bolton

About Lyndon Bolton 126 Articles
Writing about americana, country, blues, folk and all stops in between

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