Glasgow’s very hip Glad Cafe hosted this night of singer/songwriters playing “in the round” as popularised by The Bluebird Cafe (in Nashville, although the Edinburgh eatery and venue of the same name hosted this self same trio several days earlier). An opportunity for these three talented performers to swap some of the tales behind their songs while interacting as each played in turn, it was an engaging and ultimately uplifting night which proved, at the very least, that the art of song writing is alive and well and that music is a bridge which spans nations and generations.
Starr, from Colorado, was the seasoned veteran promoting his latest release, ‘South and West’, a tremendous collection of heartfelt ballads and fiery country rockers. Healy, from Glasgow, released her debut album in 2014 and is a regular visitor to Nashville while the Edinburgh based Shields has been recording solo and with Scots indie band Ardent John since 2008 but has recently been expanding his profile on the back of his excellent EP ‘Fire on Holy Ground’. Quite a contrast as the three trooped onto the stage but there was an evident camaraderie from the beginning and as the songs and stories started to spill out various themes and subjects emerged which united all three.
Playing two sets and almost two hours in total each artist had ample opportunity to show off their wares as they took their turn. Al Shields kicked off the evening with a new song which showed off his tender balladry to good effect (with Starr immediately decorating the song with some fine guitar lines). He was somewhat self deprecating regarding some of his earlier efforts but these were easily dismissed especially when he sang ‘Got It So Bad’, slowed down from its recorded incarnation and given a powerful rendition while ‘Kick Your Feet Up’ is a song that could have been penned by Lowell George and the trio gelled immaculately tonight on the song giving it a very moving performance.
Martha Healy’s first number was ‘To Be Free’, the title song from an EP she released last year which had an Appalachian touch to it midway between The Carter Family and Dolly Parton. As she progressed through the evening she played several songs from her upcoming second album which show her moving away from the wonderful Patsy Cline like roustabouts she’s known for into more personal areas, a reflection perhaps of her commitment to song writing workshops with local writers and artists such as Gretchen Peters. A song about an uncle, recalled from only a photograph was quite touching while ‘Keep the Flame Alight’, a song yet to be released and about striving through difficult times resonated with the three singers talking about the inherent darkness in many of their and their peers’ songs.
Starr’s first song, ‘The Edge of the World’, came from his John Oates’ produced EP and was an excellent introduction to his melodic troubadouring which in this acoustic setting recalled the likes of John Hartford crooning ‘Gentle On My Mind’. This song and ‘Don’t Give Me Hope’, a song with a memorable chorus rally benefited from Healy’s harmony vocals which were spot on despite the trio having only played together once before.
They all told their tales and there was plenty of interaction and bantering going on amidst the songs. Shields explained that his tribute to bar bands continually asked to play Freebird, ‘The Boys in the Band’, was so called after a line in a Healy song and of course Healy then played that song, ‘Too Much Vodka’, with the aforementioned line getting a huge cheer. Healy revealed that she secretly wrote songs in the loo when she was in a fairly drudge like 9-5 job and Starr honed in on Healy’s reflections on family as he sang a song co-written with Susan Maire Reeves at a songwriters’ retreat when she was worried over some bad news from her daughter. On the last round of songs each agreed to lighten it up a bit so we had Shields singing his slightly bittersweet Dylanesque ‘Johanna’, Healy with another new song, a warm offering called ‘No Place Like Home’ and Starr rounding things off with his Tom Petty like call to arms, ‘Alive Again’.
As we said at the beginning, this was an uplifting experience. The small (and very hot) venue was a perfect theatre for these three talents who engaged perfectly with the enraptured audience and with each other. At the merch table the discs sold like hotcakes, the audience in thrall to this close up glimpse of how artists tick and a real reminder that gigs like this are the life and blood of local circuits throughout the land, well away from the bloated stadium efforts foisted on the general public. For the price of two pints we were all transported to a happier land for a couple of hours.