17 September 2008
Cindy Bullens, Case Hardin, Richard Thompson, The Hackensaw Boys, Bonnie Prince Billy with Matt Sweeney, Chris Mills.
17 September 2008
|Cindy Bullens - The Musician, Leicester - 27th August 2005|
Review by Jeremy Searle
Cindy Bullens first UK tour for perhaps twenty years could be dubbed The Missing Musician Revue. On Thursday in Sheffield she was possessed of a full band, by Saturday sheâ€™s down to a guitarist (actually the bassist from the band), and for the second set sheâ€™s solo. No explanation is offered, and itâ€™s all the odder because Bullens is plainly a rocker, and plays her first set in particular like sheâ€™s fronting a band and playing a Strat, all shapes and beaten chords. The guitarist she does have is barely audible 90% of the time, so what weâ€™re offered is basically another acoustic female singer-songwriter. What could have been a disappointment though is redeemed by her material, which is A1 throughout. Majoring on her latest album â€œdream #29â€ and 1999â€™s â€œSomewhere Between Heaven And Earthâ€, there isnâ€™t a duff song in either set, though the setlist would have benefited from greater focus on the more thoughtful numbers at the expense of the more full-on songs like â€œHammer And Nailsâ€. â€œJellico Highwayâ€ and â€œThousand Shades of Grayâ€ standout from the first set, while crowd favourite â€œBoxing With Godâ€ and â€œSeven Daysâ€ shade it from the second. Her best material has a painful poignancy to it that few can match, no doubt partly born of the tragedy of losing her daughter to cancer at eleven, an event chronicled and faced on â€œSomewhere Between Heaven And Earthâ€. She writes a damn fine couplet (â€œYour words slide over me like Oriental Silk/And then your fingers do the sameâ€ from â€œOriental Silkâ€), and apart from some understandable nervousness commands the stage with a skill born of long experience. So, if not a triumph then certainly a win, but I feel Bullensâ€™ natural home is in front of a band, and hopefully next time weâ€™ll get one. One last non-musical note. Yes it was a Saturday night, yes thereâ€™s a licence until 1pm, but a 9.30pm start, an hour from a not-particularly-distinguished support, and two sets, make for a pretty late finish for those of us who travel some distance to gigs, which surely could be avoided. Or am I just getting old?
|Case Hardin - 12 Bar, London - 17th August 2005|
Review by Jim Sutherland
So whatâ€™s an Texan passing though London on a sweaty August Wednesday supposed to do for entertainment? You could hang around the hotel bar, blow the expense account on overpriced booze and shoot the shit with the hookers, or you could drag your ass over to the 12 Bar and see whoâ€™s playing. I thought option 2 might be a better use of my time. Good choice. Iâ€™d seen Pete Gow perform solo acoustic at an Americana UK House gig, but not as Case Hardin - but then Case Hardin has shrunk, maybe contracted is a better word, to Pete on acoustic guitar/harp and Del Skinner on electric, lap steel, and mandolin. Never saw the 5 piece line up but this one works. Donâ€™t know how youâ€™d get five on the 12 bar stage anyway. His set tonight was part of a tour opening for Chris Mills, along with Quiet Loner - good performances from them also - but someone else will have to put up those reviews. Case Hardin did a short set, abouthalf an hour, themes drawn from the usual suspects of the singer-songwriter catalog - hurtinâ€™ love, cheatinâ€™ love, and true love, (maybe not cheatinâ€™ love). While the themes were familiar, that didn't detract from the well crafted lyrics, thoughtful arrangements, and genuine performance. Duoâ€™s sometimes get a little sweet for my taste, but this one has grit. Pete's voice is loose, edgy, tough; not pretty, but right for the material. Delâ€™s instrumental work was first rate, never shouting â€œlook at meâ€ as lap steel and mandolin can do. His electric guitar had a faintly menacing tone. The crowd seemed to appreciate the performance, with a minimum of the yakking that has spoiled more than one 12 Bar show for me. Anyone who came to show looking to be cheered up was probably disappointed, those who came to hear a singer songwriter in good form went away happy; I know I did.
|Richard Thompson - 23rd August 2005 - The Lyric, Hammersmith|
Review by Nic Fildes
The line in Richard Thompson's 'Let It Blow' where the narrator talks of 'reading Penthouse in the loo' sums up why a man instrumental in kickstarting interest in English folk music back in the sixties deserves attention in an Americana context. Thompson, who has lived in Los Angeles for around 15 years, retains a quintessentially English humour and delivery but effortlessly adds elements of rockabilly, country and blues into his style - something his American audience is more than aware of. But they might be wondering what a 'loo' is. Take his finest song - 1952 Vincent Black Lightning - a tale of motorcycle-riding rebels driving around Surrey. When covered by bluegrass legend Del McCoury, it was voted bluegrass song of 2002. Viewing Thompson's work solely through the lens of Fairport Convention risks undermining the great man's work. Although many of Thompson's songs focus on death, loss, destitution and depression, there a few performers as witty. His moody opener 'Mingus Eyes,' gave no clue that he was in a mischievous mood. Yet he soon had the crowd in stitches, with his Cowardesque 'I've Got the Hots for the Smarts,' which betrayed a desire for a woman who likes to be 'goosed while reading Proust.' His wit proved infectious. When introducing 'Hokey Pokey,' a song he triumphantly said was banned by the BBC back in the early 1970's, one wag enquired; "Banned or just ignored?"
At times, you almost feel like you're watching the bereted Richard Thompson in his front room given his casual style and casual-friday dress. Yet his soaring voice on the haunting 'King of Bohemia' and the new 'For Who's Sake?' combine with his astonishing ability to simultaneously play three guitar parts to put his talent into perspective. Just because he doesn't indulge in the stage histrionics of his guitar-maestro peers, doesn't mean you can't be blown away. In lesser hands, the call-and-response 'Crawl Back' could be just another busker's favourite, but Thompson's characteristic solos make the song sparkle. Danny Thompson, John Martyn's legendary sidekick, added yet more virtuosity to the evening, his jazzy double-bass runs underpinning his namesake's complex arrangements. A third Thompson - Richard's daughter Camilla - arrived during the encore, adding impressive harmony to 'Persuasion' and 'Keep Your Distance.' It's not strange to find Thompson in such fine form, but it's rewarding to catch him solo rather than with a full band. Unlike most of the 1990's 'unplugged' albums from unlikely artists (Stone Temple Pilots unplugged anyone?), Thompson's best work is done with an acoustic guitar. It's a treat to catch him cordless again.
|The Hackensaw Boys - The Musician, Leicester - 23rd August 2005|
Review by Jeremy Searle
This gig was The Hackensaw Boysâ€™ first ever UK gig, and it was a frankly astonishing affair. Despite pulling a big crowd of bluegrass fans, with a smattering of Americana in-the-know people, the band know they have to work, and work they do. Sweat pours off them (someone coming in halfway through could work out the length of the gig from the bassist-cum-fiddlerâ€™s t-shirt colour change) as they open up with a fast and furious set of songs and instrumentals. Akin to the Old Crow Medicine Show, but with the broader palette that comes from having been around longer, they play a raggedy edged grass, swapping instruments, vocals and banter with the crowd to the manner born. They come on at 10, at 10.45 people realise thereâ€™s only going to be one set, at 11.15 they think itâ€™s winding down, at 11.45 they exchange glances (â€œhow long can they keep this up?â€) until at 12 they stop and the roof is raised. Back they come for two encores until licensing restrictions drive them off. They played it fast, they played it slow and they played it totally acoustic (the final encore, a magnificent version of â€œHigh Fallerâ€ from current album â€œLove What You Doâ€). The songs were great (â€œThe Sunâ€™s Work Undoneâ€, â€œCannonballâ€, â€œKeep It Simpleâ€ highlights, but there were no lowlights if truth be told), the playing fantastic (though the jokes were dreadful), and the evening an unmitigated triumph that nobody present is going to forget any time soon. Magnificent.
|Bonnie Prince Billy with Matt Sweeney - Queenâ€™s Hall, Edinburgh - August 21st 2005|
Review by Mike Ritchie
August in Edinburgh, Festival Fringe time. You can see fire-eaters, jugglers, unicyclists, jokers, banjo players and opera singers â€“ and thatâ€™s just in the gentsâ€™ toilet of any city centre pub. Seriously, Scotlandâ€™s capital is a stage for hundreds of artistes in countless productions at an endless number of venues (including department stores and hotel bedrooms) during the Fringe and, thankfully, the cast list was joined by the brilliant, special and mesmerising, Bonnie Prince Billy. His midnight show was staged too late, obviously, for the young lady sat in the same row as me who kept nodding off surely from chronic festival fatigue syndrome and definitely not what was unfolding in this converted church venue where the bulk of the capacity audience is seated in the original pews in stifling heat. In fact, we were on the edge of our seats throughout.
Mr Oldham and his truly top notch band led by the immensely impressive â€œSuper Wolfâ€ lead guitar of Matt Sweeney, were in irresistible form â€“ quiet as church mice or boisterous as hell-fire and damnation preachers let loose after bible class studies when required. It proved a hugely potent mix stirred by Billy and his boys. Not a second was wasted as they eased through an intriguing 90-minute selection that included â€œMy Home Is The Seaâ€ from the Princeâ€™s latest release, the marvellous â€œSuper Wolfâ€ and a heart-stopping version of â€œI See A Darkness,â€ bringing the show to a close and everyone to their feet before an encore was granted. This was not the Prince solely immersed in the magical reverie or whispered heartbreak of â€œMaster and Everyoneâ€ although a couple of the quieter offerings demonstrated his addictive vocals and phrasing perfectly. The dramatic rockier side that got a welcome outing was a revelation, a new sound from the Princeâ€™s own special palace of music. For this, the musicians gelled perfectly, cranking out gutsy sounds and ornate trills while never overshadowing the Prince whose antics and movements reminded me of Joe Cocker and Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson trying to escape from the same straightjacket. Itâ€™s hard to take your eyes off him. His barely-played mandolin was cuddled and caressed; he did daft, jig-like steps and gripped his trouser legs. He hugged himself and stretched out his arms like an orchestral conductor releasing imaginary doves - and it all looked perfectly natural. And his voice, whether sharing his lyrics conspiratorially or in more full-blown mode, is as distinctive and gorgeous as any singer around.
Itâ€™s always commendable when an artiste varies his approach to already feted material â€“ think Neil Young â€“ to re-work proven gems and make his new versions sparkle and glow. His songs oscillated between warmth and sincere edginess buoyed by musicians who clearly enjoyed every minute of it, as did the crowd. This was an uplifting, hypnotic performance from a talent not afraid to do his own thing with carefully-crafted music bursting with quality thatâ€™s set to be admired and enjoyed for a long time to come. Maybe next time, the show should start earlier so we could happily indulge ourselves for longer in his presence.
|Bonnie Prince Billy with Matt Sweeney - The Forum, London - 22nd August 2005|
Review by Nic Fildes
During the first minute of this gig, unaware punters may have wondered if they'd been transported back to the psychedelic sixties as colorful lights, smoke and ethereal falsetto voices glided over the inchoate strummings of three heavily-reverberated guitars. This is the brave new world of Superwolf, the slightly unnerving new album from Will Oldham and Matt Sweeney. The album has split Oldham's fanbase between those that welcome the return of the esoteric sound of his early efforts and those that prefer the warmer 'Master & Everyone' and Nashville retreads, but one thing is for sure - it sounds much better live. While an unexpectedly rowdy audience accosted the gnomish Oldham to hear his classics, the band reeled off Superwolf tunes such as 'What are You' and the album's opener 'My Home is the Sea' with aplomb. With such a healthy back catalogue to draw from, it surprised me that by far the strongest songs played during the set were 'Goat and Ram' and 'Blood Embrace,' both slow-building songs built on Sweeney's dreamy riffs that climaxed in waves of distorted power. We were miles away from Oldham's gently-delivered intense performance at Shepherds Bush Empire last time he played in London. Also of note was 'Beast In Thee,' a beautiful song that will surely be remembered as one of his best.
Over the course of two hours, Oldham also dropped some of his more familiar work into the set, the obligatory 'I See A Darkness,' his original take on 'Ohio River Boat Song,' 'Riding Song' and 'My Kingdom For a Heart.' Unfortunately, no 'I Am A Cinematographer' or 'I Send My Love To You,' but there was enough fodder for lupine naysayers. Sweeney, whose pedigree includes Guided By Voices and the disappointing Zwan, seems content to meander around the stage until his falsetto vocals are needed. Oldham, however, danced around comically, sticking out his rear-end like a duck and at one stage, waltzing with his undersized guitar. His antics are almost worth the admission price alone. You'd almost swear you'd seen him throwing similar moves and howling like a wolf outside the tube station that morning.Yet despite Oldham's 'mad-as-a-balloon' stage persona, the most eyebrow raising moment of the night came when he opened the encore with a Bee Gees cover - 'Buried Treasure,' a song made famous by silver fox (not super wolf) Kenny Rogers. It's a triumph of skill that his version of the chipmunk-voiced trio's song sounded as good as anything he'd written himself.
|Chris Mills - The Maze - Cabaret, Nottingham - 15th August 2005|
Review by Jeremy Searle
Chris Mills is over this side of the pond for a short solo acoustic tour in advance of a longer full band version in the autumn. Although itâ€™s not officially released yet, heâ€™s effectively semi-promoting his new album â€œThe Wall to Wall Sessionsâ€, his first since 2002â€™s excellent â€œThe Silver Lineâ€. Live heâ€™s the same as he ever was, impassioned, powerful vocals in a staccato, snapped off style, allied to choppy guitar licks. He can be a little disturbing, there are occasional hints of a 1000 yard stare, and he does give the impression of a man on the edge. But this is offset by an offbeat, slightly surreal sense of humour that appears in the between-songs patter and stories. His set majors on his last and imminent albums, highlights being â€œThe Silver Lineâ€ itself and â€œDancing On The Head Of A Pinâ€, a gorgeous and beautifully gentle track from the new offering. His American label is called Powerless Pop, and his style could well be described as Power(ful) Pop, but itâ€™s at the intelligent and literate end of that spectrum. The audience are clearly fans of some standing, calling for requests, taking Mills a little by surprise, which is endearing, but he duly delivers much to everyoneâ€™s delight. An excellent evening in its own right, it whets the appetite for the autumn tour, when I and I expect everyone else in the audience tonight will be there again.