Sometimes you just know when you have made the right choice and so it was that when The Deslondes struck up it was clear that the other attractions at tonight’s Celtic Connections would pale in comparison. From the very start this five piece New Orleans band transformed Oran Mor into a dusty American Roadhouse, the standing audience swaying in time to the beer stained music throughout the show.
With all five band members able to sing lead and with John James Tourville alternating on pedal steel, telecaster and fiddle, the set was a veritable jamboree of American music. Country, soul, blues, Cajun and Gospel sounds all featured with some songs having a laid back and languid Southern shuffle while others bolted along like 18 wheelers riding the highway. The two opening numbers, Blues In Heaven (from their previous incarnation as The Tumbleweeds), a slow and syrupy sweet lament, and the rockabilly tinged One Of These Lonesome Mornings showed off their range.
With Tourville playing slide guitar, Who Really Loses slunk along like a Little Feat number and there was a sixties sheen to Nelly, a sound they returned to later with (This Ain’t A) Sad Song which owed as much to Merseybeat as it did to Tin Pan Alley. Muddy Water meanwhile, sung by the gruff voiced Riley Downing, was an excellent stumblebum slice of country one could imaging Levon Helm having great fun with. With all five taking turns to sing there were similarities to The Band and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as each took the band in various directions but they never strayed from their central tenet of playing good time American music. Yum Yum, a litany of southern soul food was like a Lee Dorsey number, Those were (Could’ve Been) The Days, with vocals by Sam Doores, was a hardscrabble honky tonk song and a cover of a Cast King song (King was an Alabama singer who recorded his debut album at the age of 79), Wrong Time To Be Right, was given a fine delivery.
Also covering Passing Through (as covered by Pete Seeger and Leonard Cohen) and J J Cale’s Drifter’s Wife, the band celebrated their New Orleans roots in their encore which featured Frankie Ford’s Sea Cruise. Having played around 20 songs, few of them longer than three minutes, the band were infectiously enjoyable, a delight to see and hear and certainly one of the best live acts this writer has seen in some time. If you get a chance to see them then you really have to go.
Opening the night was Underhill Rose, currently playing as a duo with Molly Rose Reed on guitar and Eleanor Underhill on banjo, bass player Sally Williamson having left the band late last year to concentrate on other activities. Dodgy transport meant that AUK missed the beginning of their set but as we arrived they launched into the wonderfully sultry Whispering Pines Motel, their harmonies spot on with Underhill’s banjo adding a fine rustic touch. Able to sound as old as the hills but also able to achieve a fine pop sensibility along with a catchy melody, the pair’s too short set included the poignant Westside, a dreamlike reverie on their debut album, tonight transformed into a haunted and halting song of loss and longing. Likewise, the sensual Love Looks Good On You didn’t miss the subtle electric guitar which weaves throughout the studio recording as the pair delivered the song with a slight country ripple while maintaining the soulful chorus and its opening line, “You Don’t Like Country music but it still reminds me of you,” continues to stand out. A new song, Dublin Days, a travelogue of broken hearts, boded well for the future but there was no time for any of their quirky covers such as These Boots Are Made For Walking. Instead, for the closing song, the duo brought their mothers on stage to sing with them on a spirited rendition of R M Jones’ blues standard, Trouble In Mind, both mums’ well able to belt out the words as well as their daughters. A nice touch to bow out on.