It’s not often that there are more novels than discs on a merch table at a gig but tonight there was an author, Willie Vlautin, on stage, one part of The Delines who produced a magnificent set of songs suffused with southern soul and bleak outlooks, broken hearts and broken fingers, drifters adrift in a sea of loneliness. Vlautin of course has forged a second career as a wordsmith with a couple of his books plucked by Hollywood but we first heard his words via Richmond Fontaine and with The Delines he has created another fabulous band. The story is that he had a bunch of songs he didn’t feel comfortable singing so he asked Amy Boone to step in which she did so excellently on their first album, ‘Colfax’. Disaster struck soon after when Boone was seriously injured in a car accident requiring lengthy rehab for her injuries and the band was put on furlough. Now, with Boone recovered sufficiently, the second album, ‘The Imperial’, is out and the band are on fire.
Oran Mor was packed to overflowing as the band arrived on stage, Boone still using a walking cane, and as they sloped into the first of many slo mo dreamy songs with ‘The Imperial’ it was clear we were in for a treat. Boone’s voice immediately commanded attention, sultry and soulful, she crooned over the swooning electric piano and dramatic flourishes as the song progressed, a star indeed. This was the case throughout the night as Vlautin remained in the background allowing Boone the chance to shine with no grandstanding from the band. Indeed the line up were quietly spectacular, adding a bit more muscle along with light and shade to the songs as opposed to the recorded versions, ‘Eddie And Polly’ being a good example as an ominous rumble reverberated from the keyboards leading to an almost psychedelic tinged ending as Boone whispered the closing refrain. Indeed, there was a heartrending moment on ‘Holly The Hustle’ as the band slowed almost to a halt as Boone detailed Holly’s injuries from a man in El Paso who “she misjudged.” The words, “She was nineteen with two broken ribs, three busted fingers and nowhere to live,” were chilling to hear.
At times sounding like Lambchop replacing Kurt Wagner with Bobbie Gentry, the band played on. Revisiting songs from ‘Colfax’ such as ‘The Oil Rigs At Night’ while bringing the newer songs to life as on ‘He Don’t Burn For Me’, a soul song in essence which saw Boone sounding for all the world like soul enchantresses such as Irma Thomas or Etta James. This was all tremendous stuff and, on such a packed night as this, it’s the quietest gig we’ve ever encountered at Oran Mor with none of the usual bar chat at the back as all were transfixed by the music wafting like sweet molasses from the stage. Just magnificent.
Unfortunately the packed crowd failed to appear to see the support act, Dori Freeman, play her first Scottish show although there were a good handful of folk standing stage front for her, some of them familiar with her music as some requests were shouted out. Accompanied by her husband, Nick Falk, on drums and banjo and dapper bow tie, Freeman took us though a whistle stop guide to Appalachian and Gospel music along with some of her own songs. Opening with one of her happy songs (a rarity she said), ‘If I Could Make You All My Own’ and then moving on to her Spotify hit (“it’s earned me 20 bucks!”) ‘You Say’, she then offered us some Doc Watson with ‘You Must Come In At The Door’. ‘Go On Lovin’‘ was sung after a request but our favourite of the night was her remake of an old song, ‘Yonder Comes A Sucker’ which hammered along with some zest. It would be great to see Ms. Freeman come back to headline a show of her own.