If you’re looking for a great night of cheatin’ country songs then there’s no better way to go about it than to pull up a seat at a My Darling Clementine show. Married couple Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King have been performing their quarrelsome pairing for almost a decade now and while, initially, the primary inspiration for the band were Nashville’s warring duos such as George and Tammy and Porter and Dolly, they’ve moved on quite a bit since then. They channel the melting pot of country and soul which was perfected in Memphis in the late sixties while there’s also a grand Brill Building pop sensibility to some of their songs. Tonight they returned to Celtic Connections with a red hot line up and while the theatrics are still there, there’s a deep and abiding love of the genre they so admire with several of the songs performed deep cuts from the country canon.
First off there’s the grand entrance of the married couple, headed to the stage from the back of the venue, Weston King with guitar slung over his shoulder, Dalgleish in a rain mac carrying a posy of flowers and a plastic handbag, a tear painted on her cheek. All this to the strains of George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s recorded wedding vows on ‘The Ceremony’. It’s cheesy, sure, but it tickles this reviewer pink each time we see it and after all these years it’s the best introduction to their raison d’être which one could imagine. Throughout the set, in the song introductions, the pair bicker and parry with a great deal of wit and again it’s one of the joys of seeing them live (the only pair who come close here is The Handsome Family).
And then there’s the music. Straight off they slid into the languid Mexicana of ‘The King Of The Carnival’, no shtick here, just a straightforward romance south of the border and a hint that we were in for a treat tonight. The band (Al Gare on double bass, Dean Beresford, drums, and Iain Sloan, guitar and pedal steel) summoned up here the sensation of a torpid cantina with ease and went on to deliver some sweet country licks, soul stews and rockabilly roustabouts throughout the night. Dalgleish and Weston King delivered some knock out country heartbreak on ‘No Heart In This Heartache‘, ‘Since I Fell For You’ and ‘Departure Lounge’, real tears in the beer songs, but proving they are no one trick pony they also mined some other sources. ‘Our Race Is Run’ (dedicated to the country of the United Kingdom by Weston King as he alluded to Brexit) simmered with the slow burn romance one normally expects from a 1968 Stax soul duet while ‘Yours Is The Cross I Still Bear’ was another soulful slope into sixties pop melodrama. This sixties fix continued in their excellent amalgamation of country weepiness and classic pop songs on ‘Since I Fell For You’ as Weston King perambulated through some sixties perennials and the band added some appropriate mock operatic flourishes.
There was a tremendous rendition of Lou Dalgleish’s answer song, ‘No Matter What Tammy Said (I Won’t Stand By Him)’ while she and Weston King gave us an unexpected ‘A Good Year For The Roses’, a tribute to the writer Jerry Chesnut who died in December. In a similar manner, Ronnie Self was praised by Weston King before a fine twangy delivery of ‘I Can’t Live With You (When You Can’t Live With Myself)’. They closed with the pulsating beat of ‘The Embers And The Flame’, a song which gathers together elements of Nashville, Merseybeat and country rock followed by a gutsy ‘100,000 Words’ which slurped from Chips Moman and Gram Parsons. A grand end to a great show.
Support tonight was from an Edinburgh duo, Taylor & Leigh, a brother and sister act who have done the Nashville pilgrimage and come back with some songs of “enduring love, heartache and drinking.” An engaging couple who were winners of a Celtic Connections Danny Kyle award some years back, they are at the bluesier end of country but with songs such as ‘House Of Cards’, a bruised love song, and another, inspired by an encounter with a Nashville manicurist, they settled the audience nicely in. They’re a pair who would sound great in a more intimate venue and a quick listen to their album, Dirt Road To Happiness, allows that they did indeed capture that Nashville vibe. That there was a queue to buy the album after their opening set was encouraging.
One thing to say to Oran Mor. It’s not cool to have security hover around the merch table at the end of the night reminding the band that “it’s time to go.” There might be a curfew but management should factor in time for the artists to make their living.