Tonight’s headliner at Lincolnshire’s premier Americana music venue, The Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey sees the return of one of Nashville’s finest singer-songwriters of the last twenty years in Rod Picott. This evening’s show is actually the fourth time Picott has trod these halcyon boards but the first time since 2019 in support of that year’s release ‘Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil’ after which the pandemic understandably slowed everything down. That’s not to suggest that Picott has been idle during the interim, far from it, as 2021 saw the release of ‘Wood, Steel, Dust & Dreams’, an album of co-writes with his lifelong friend Slaid Cleaves, which was quickly followed last year with the highly acclaimed ‘Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows’. Tonight’s return is part of a 19-date tour of the UK and Ireland and coincides with the imminent release of Picott’s new album ‘Starlight Tour’, his 12th in total, scheduled for the 20th October.
The evening’s healthy attendance is testament to Picott’s popularity garnered over his previous visits, demonstrated by the raucous applause as he took his place on the stage, guitar in hand for this solo performance. The show kicks off with two songs from last year’s album, starting with ‘Mona Lisa’, with its opening lines “I am standing beneath the street light waiting here for you”, immediately setting the tone, Picott’s passionate vocal delivery shot full of hard-won streetwise authenticity immediately connecting with the congregation. ‘Revenuer’ follows, full of defiance with Picott’s strong rhythmic guitar playing driving the song along which, considering it is still only weeks since he broke his left wrist in a fall, of which the only visible evidence is a metal sleeve that was worn before and after the concert, is quite staggering. From here we’re straight into a run of songs from the new album beginning with ‘Next Man In Line’, a song that draws on the passing of time, and a changing of the guard, possibly reflecting his own relationship with his aging father, who has been the inspiration for many of Picott’s previous songs throughout his career. Next up was ‘Digging Ditches’, another perfect example of Picott’s position as a champion for the blue-collared worker, as he growls with menace and intent, scars audibly visible while his delivery takes no prisoners. ‘A Puncher’s Chance’, is a co-write with Hollywood screenwriter and director Brian Koppelman, famous for such films as ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’, ‘Rounders’, and ‘Solitary Man’. The story goes that Koppelman sent Picott the title suggesting that with the right lyrics it had the potential to be a good song which Picott duly delivered but not before Koppelman had made a few adjustments. Regardless of who takes credit for any particular line together they have written a bona fide classic full of hidden metaphors and subtle depths. The rather humorous aside is that Koppelman also sent the title to Cleaves who also turned it into a song. The last of the songs from the new album is ‘Television Preachers’ where Picott takes an acerbic swipe at Sunday morning televangelists with their hard sell for donations aimed at the hard-earned wages of the working-class man.
Before the interval is reached there’s an opportunity to delve back into Picott’s vast canon starting with the title track from 2011’s classic album ‘Welding Burns’ a cowrite with Cleaves which again draws inspiration from his father’s working life and is stuffed full of classic lines such as “some things you’re born to, some things you gotta learn“. One of Picott’s major assets is his ability to deliver a lyrical narrative so rooted in experience that it immediately reflects both the diversity and inclusion that so vividly connects with the listener. To be fair, this is a trait he has displayed right from the beginning of his recording career as the closing number of the first set perfectly exemplifies with ‘Angels And Acrobats’ from his second album ‘Stray Dogs’ released in 2002.
Before the commencement of the second set the obligatory intermission allows the audience to avail themselves from the selection of goodies on the merchandise table that includes the forthcoming album ‘Starlight Tour’, thus enabling those taking the opportunity to hear it a full three weeks before its official release.
Whereas the first set turned the spotlight very much on the forthcoming new album the second half of the evening’s performance shifted the focus to Picott’s back catalogue with the first two songs drawn from his debut album ‘Tiger Tom Dixon’s Blues’,which first saw the light of day back in 2001. Starting with ‘Gettin’ To Me’ which still encapsulates all the brooding intensity that it did when Picott first unleashed this slice of classic americana at the dawn of the millennium, then followed by ‘Broke Down’, with the chorus delivering one of his best lines “Broke down, cracked and shattered, left in pieces like it never really mattered.” From here it’s back to last year’s offering ‘Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows’ and the song ‘Through The Dark’ which even in this stripped-back form of guitar and vocal still bursts with the energy and passion of an anthem for the downtrodden and overlooked – Picott’s commitment palpable from the sweat that drips across his face. By this point in proceedings the interaction between artist and audience that had been building ever since the first strum of his guitar had now reach such a crescendo you could tangibly feel the excitement and adrenaline as it bounced back and forth from the stage.
Throughout the performance, Picott interspersed his songs with anecdotes which at times were often humorous, at other times more sobering but always informative. The latter preceded the next song which had long been a favourite of his mother’s and had more recently taken that accolade with his father. During Covid Picott’s mother passed away, though not from the virus, and he graphically described the challenge of travelling from Nashville to Maine during lockdown. His father now suffers from Alzheimers and yet Picott still talks passionately of the privilege of watching his parents grow old, recognising the continuously subtle changes within their roles and parental responsibilities having once revealed that during his adolescent years the Cleaves home was often seen as a refuge from the turmoil of his own. The song in question is of course ‘Rust Belt Fields’ another co-write with Cleaves and a salute to the common man as it describes the deterioration of a community in the wake of its sole source of employment being closed down, the narrative perfectly capturing the sense of loss as Picott sings, “Drove into the ground ’til your factory’s cold, then they tear it all down and the parts get sold. Come the bankers now picking over the bones, I got three more neighbours now ’bout to lose their home.” Picott is quoted as saying “My own personal politics are in the stories, but I don’t write political songs”, which brings to mind the work of another blue-collared hero, Bruce Springsteen, and in particular his album ‘Nebraska’ which Picott himself once described as an album “jam packed with politics, but there’s no politics”. The Springsteen connection is an obvious one, Picott has regularly spoke of his influence, and in many ways it could indeed be suggested that Picott has picked up the baton from the late seventies and early eighties Springsteen, before stadium tours and ticket prices costing close to a working man’s weekly wage created a gulf between the audience and performer if not the artist himself, whose integrity for many still remains intact. Picott’s respect for Springsteen is unwavering but the subject of ticket prices is one not lost on him, nor the importance of the smaller venues, clubs and bars. In her recent book ‘The Downhome Sound’, which attempts to take a more scientific look at Americana music, Mandi Bates Bailey regularly uses Picott and his music as a touchstone for her rather intriguing prospective of the genre quoting him numerous times particularly on grassroots venues of which he reminisces, “It was this beautiful sort of gathering place. It was like someone opened a home where everybody was invited”.
From here we get the only song of this evening’s set from 2014’s album ‘Hang Your Hopes On A Crooked Nail’, ‘Where No One Knows My Name’, before returning to the opening song from last years album ‘Lover’. And with that we had reached the final number of what had been a truly spellbinding set, the two hours passing in what had felt like just a blink of an eye as Picott closed the proceedings with his version of Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’, delivered with a respectful tip of the hat to the original. However tonight’s vociferous crowd were never going let Picott leave without an encore and so to the stage he returned with many in the crowd crying out the names of their favourite songs they still hoped he would play. The biggest shout came for ‘Primer Gray’ the only song of the evening from 2018’s album ‘Out Past The Wires’ to which Picott duly obliged and a fitting number to close the evening with its hymnal quality and sagacious lyrics epitomising all that makes Picott one of the most important artists of his generation. An audible sense of excitement could be detected amongst the congregation as they poured out of the hall into the freshness of an autumnal night with the harvest moon shining bright upon the venue. Here’s hoping it acts as a beacon for Picott to quickly find his way back to this gathering place at the heart of Lincolnshire’s Americana music scene.
The evening’s proceeding were opened by Nick Thurtell, a singer-songwriter from Surrey who had to endure a rather stressful five-hour journey in getting to tonight’s venue, such are the joys of the M1 on a Friday afternoon. Once he had time to relax into his surroundings he informed the audience that he regularly fronts a more rock-oriented back and has spent many years working on the cruise ships. Tonight however is very much an acoustic singer songwriter set of which ‘Smoke Ash’ and ‘The Last Letter’ are particular highlights in a thirty-five-minute set.