|Silver Jews â€“ Manchester Academy â€“ 13th July 2006|
Review by Mark Whitfield
It looked at one point like longstanding fans (and new ones for that matter) would never get a chance to see the Silver Jews live since they were one of those bands who just didnâ€™t tour, or at least not on this side of the Atlantic. So the elation surrounding their first performance after 15 years in the north of England was understandable (indeed one of only three UK dates on this tour) and thankfully David Berman and his band didnâ€™t let the expectant crowd down. The band themselves worked so well together throughout the set with such strong musicianship and an unusual three lead guitars fronting the sound that already hugely strong songs such as â€œSleeping is the Only Love, Dallasâ€ and â€œRandom Rulesâ€ were given an extra blast of vitality â€“ Bermanâ€™s wife Cassie could perhaps do with having had her vocals turned up a bit, but she too played the part perfectly of the relatively recent male-female harmony hallmark of the Silver Jewsâ€™ sound. Berman was chatty and personable with the audience throughout - on songs like â€œSometimes a Pony Gets Depressedâ€ and â€œHorseleg Swastikasâ€ you really got a feel for what an outstanding lyricist he is - and given that there was fifteen years of material to play with and catch up on, the fact that the band played songs a decade old didnâ€™t detract from hearing them for the first time in the flesh as it were. Finishing off with the euphoric â€œPunks in the Beerlightâ€ (or the Pepsi Max song as itâ€™s become colloquially known), the Silver Jews proved that theyâ€™ve got what it takes in spades to carry off a live gig and have surely, hopefully, got another fifteen years in them at least.
|Gretchen Peters with John Lester - Salford Lowry, Quays Theatre - 14th July 2006|
Review by Dave Adair
The nimble figure of Europe based, American double bassist/singer songwriter John Lester cut a meek, but welcoming figure to the right of what looked like a large stage, with his solo presence. Lester used to run a quaint coffee shop near a hospital back in the States after deciding to go solo. This vocation obviously aided the life-bearing nature of his songs and his commanding vocals rise above the throbbing double bass to deliver life pondering lyrics and a cosmopolitan sense of humour. â€˜Out Of The Clear Blue Skyâ€™ neatly merges political bewilderment and crisp poetry, as an intrigued crowd gazes on and appears contemplative at the end of a searching and life mulling set, brought to a close with the wistful â€˜They Come And They Goâ€™. This submissively gives into the unchangeable nature of life and the ending of it, providing a moment of clarity for people to appreciate in the interlude before Gretchen Peterâ€™s entrance.
A convincing combination of Nick Drake and Beth Nielsen-Chapman is blended together by the return of John Lester on double bass and a trotting piano element to help Gretchen Peters look forward, in a set made up of a good portion of new and reflective numbers. Midway through, a keen connoisseur cannot contain his excitement and uses a brief interval to request that Peters showers us with old favourite â€˜Waiting For The Light To Turn Greenâ€™. The leading lady kept her grace and not wanting to disappoint she went on to produce a crisp rendition of a number, she hasnâ€™t played this for years and probably didnâ€™t intend to play it for a few more years, either.
The standout new number is the troubled and journeying 'Columbus' that sees Peterâ€™s vocals step up a notch and the piano riff takes on a more haunting and slightly piercing manner. There is a healthy lounge feel that permeates the set tonight, helped along by Gretchenâ€™s relaxing vocal stroll that hides a troubled element. The strolling bluesy and piano led â€˜England Bluesâ€™ continues the introspective vibe and helps the evening culminate in a reflective vein. They say that the best songwriters are the forward looking ones. Tonight Peterâ€™s demonstrates her momentum and contemplative nature is not wilting at all.
|The Be Good Tanyaâ€™s â€“ The Barbican Theatre, London â€“ 17th July 2006|
Review by Ryan Oâ€™Reilly
In these dark ages of music, thank God for The Be Good Tanyaâ€™s. After seeing this show I am now convinced that the Tanyaâ€™s deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams and even Emmylou Harris.
Despite their undoubted reputation and their importance in Americana and Bluegrass, the Tanyaâ€™s can deceive you at first. Sam Parton, Frazy Ford and Trish Klien all seemed nervous at the start of the show and in-between the opening songs. They even told the audience this when they finally broke the silence. Then they warmed to the occasion and spoke to the audience in the intimate theatre with increasing frequency and confidence, until Sam Parton entered what Frazy Ford assured the audience was a world of her own. They were funny and charming, as swayed fascinatingly between the beautiful crafted perfection of each song, and the endearing nervously surreal banter.
The set started with In Spite Of All The Damage I Done. Frazyâ€™s unique voice filled the Barbican theatre as the warm sound of the banjo and mandolin drifted in. Soon to be followed by the first hauntingly spine tingling harmonies of the evening. Itâ€™s not just that the music alone is hypnotic. The lyrics to their songs are excellent too; all freight-train rambling, heartbreak and sorrow lyrics that have been the key for all the best country blues going back to Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt. Itâ€™s nice to know the lyrics are good, because sometimes they donâ€™t all get sang in an understandable way, but it really doesnâ€™t matter.
Sam and Frazy took turns in singing lead; Trish Klienâ€™s accompanying harmonica and harmonies sounded great. All three switched regularly between banjo, mandolin and guitar. The cover of Van Zandtâ€™s Waiting Around To Die was a personal highlight for me and I couldnâ€™t help but sing along to the encore song Iâ€™m A Ship. The audience excitedly cheered the beginnings of Rain and Snow and The Littlest Birds
The Tanyaâ€™s played several songs from their forthcoming album. Out later this year. They all sound like potential classics. Frazy said that she procrastinates too much and thatâ€™s why the album has been a long time coming. But from the sound of tonightâ€™s show itâ€™s going to be well worth the wait.
|The Handsome Family - World CafÃ© Live, Philadelphia â€“ 21st July 2006|
Review by Kevin Pearson
A fruit plate isnâ€™t the first thing youâ€™d normally associate with The Handsome Family. Death? Yes. Decay? Sure. Overturned shopping carts? Why not? But itâ€™s a fruit plate Brett Sparks carries on stage. Offering it to the crowd before realizing thereâ€™s only enough for him.
Itâ€™s these tiny interactions that make The Handsome Family, husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks, as endearing as their songs are exponential. They are a Johnny and June for the download generation; a seemingly sober Rennie (sheâ€™s drinking Diet Coke) keeps Brett, who downs three bottles of beer during the set, in check. But itâ€™s Brett who counts off all the songs, songs that are full of suicide, ignorant automatic sinks, and sad milkmen. Songs, like the great Appalachian folks tales of yore, that tell stories of woe and betide, hope and beauty, liquor and everyday life.
In an age where country music has become a commodity, much like milk, pasteurized and sterile, The Handsome Family are a welcome respite from the factory flavor of the commercialized soul pop country pap currently circumnavigating the charts. On this tour, drummer, Jason Toth, and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Dorocke have joined the two-some, providing intricate inter-play on several slower songs, and a backdrop of sound for others.
My Sisters Tiny Hands cascades like a champagne fountain, crystal clear.
Weightless Again loses its air organ intro, but not its appeal. Bottomless Hole, from 2003â€™s Singing Bones, is turned into a rollicking, rocking romp, with Brett enunciating his lyrics as if theyâ€™re stuck in his teeth. Spitting them out like shrapnel. Other times his words drop like rotten apples from a tree â€“ part country crooner, part Mark E. Smith.
Brett, with a baritone so low, you could run a river through it and call it a valley, steps aside on a couple of occasions to let Rennie take the reins. She also provides the in-between song banter. Comic fodder that doesnâ€™t feel out of place in the World CafÃ© setting, which, with itâ€™s table and seating setting, low lights and candles, is more akin with a comedy club than a music venue.
This though doesnâ€™t distract from the songs, which they pull from every album except 1996â€™s Milk and Scissors, showcasing a rich and varied back catalogue.
They finish, aptly, with So Long, a paean to dead pets, before returning for a two-song encore, fruit plate in hand. Before launching into song, Brett wishes out loud for a napkin. You see; itâ€™s not just the Rolling Stones who take country music to the masses and come back with sticky fingers.
|Southern Tenant Folk Union - Kemptown Hanbury Ballroom - 25th July 2006|
Review by Mark Phillips
There were many things tonight that could have worked for and against Southern Tennant Folk Union- firstly, this was the final ever gig at The Hanbury Ballroom, as the venue is to be sold as a cabaret bar, which in this city means that from now you should only visit if you want torch songs; this writer is quite fond of that style as it happens, but after four years of country madness put on by the folks at Gilded Palace of Sin, thereâ€™s an air of sadness as well as one of carefree celebration.
Tonightâ€™s another sweaty eveningtime in a summer of intense heat, but weâ€™re 70 miles from London, thereâ€™s cold beer and thereâ€™s this remarkable bluegrass outfit on the stage.
Now the audience tonight is a mixed bag of ragged old GPoS regulars ruffed up with a good proportion of rockabilly boys and girls, and all of the audience is desperately anticipating the honky tonk debut of James â€œSlimâ€ Hand, a very talented 54 year old from Tokio TX.
Yet, only a couple of songs in, STFU have completely captured this impatient crowd, and punters walk in looking marginally stunned by the glorious racket emanating from the small Hanbury stage. More raucous than Chatham County Line, yet not as frantic or quite as emotionally charged as Old Crow Medicine Show, this five piece London outfit can consider those Americans peers.
Pat McGarveyâ€™s banjo sound has a tendency to dominate the sound in places (fair enough in the circumstances), but itâ€™s never at the cost of obscuring the mellifluous vocals from Pat, the guitarist Pete Gow and two of the other band members. Although they are clearly influenced by the likes of The Stanley Brothers, The Carter Family and The Country Gentlemen, thereâ€™s a strong vibe throughout which more clearly suggests Gene Clark and Doug Dillard.
McGarveyâ€™s lead vocal seems to switch between the traditional high lonesome sound most akin to Roscoe Holcomb and the gentler, but nonetheless soulful, Clark style.
Highlights were â€œA Little Bit Deeperâ€, with a penetrating lyrical line and impressive harmonising, and the last tune of this part of the night â€œIâ€™m Using My Bible As A Roadmapâ€, where the band ditched the mics, formed a circle in amongst the crowd, and pulled off a bit of showmanship that came over as sincere and affecting.
Southern Tennant Folk Union have some future ahead of them- with singing and picking of this quality, with a good line in original songs and enough beautiful old songs in their head to fill 10 sets, these guys should be competing on both sides of the Atlantic.
|String Driven Thing - 1901, Glasgow - 29th July 2006|
Review by Paul Kerr
On the cusp of breaking through in the early seventies, String Driven Thing were labelmates of Genesis and Lindisfarne and had a top forty hit (Circus). With a driving violin dominated sound they were neither prog nor folk, more like a muscular Stealers wheel with requisite Dylanisms and a debt to Jimmy Rodgers evident on their albums. Despite of (or because of) a cover by The Bay City Rollers of their song Itâ€™s a Game, they fizzled out. Over the past few years, buoyed by appreciative reviews of reissues of their back catalogue on CD, leader Chris Adams has tested the waters as a solo artist but has now decided to revive the name.
Playing tonight as a four piece, sans violin, and featuring Adamsâ€™ son, Rob, on guitar there was an air of anticipation from the small but enthusiastic audience which included some former members of the band. From the beginning Adamsâ€™ vocals resemble Dylanâ€™s in his Christian phase and the band do a nice line in Beatlesque chording and descending runs. By the third number, You Canâ€™t Come Back, Adams junior is stamping his authority with modal guitar resembling some of Neil Youngâ€™s fretwork. You Let Me Down, a song from their Charisma debut is great, driving and incessant. With more recent songs filling the first set, Adams namechecks some heroes, the song, Kerouac, a Byrdsian paean to the beat writer is strong with a great guitar solo and is dedicated to Roger McGuinn. Hunter Thompson and Alex Harvey are also mentioned with witty reminiscences from Adams between songs. In the second set the band is harder, producing a corking version of an old favourite, Real Hero, with its striking refrain before unveiling a great song, written by Rob Adams, Get Up and Walk Away, which sparks with energy and would not be out of place in Tom Pettyâ€™s canon. Finishing with their shot at fame, Circus, joined by Adamsâ€™ wife, Pauline from the original line-up, the band absolutely galloped home. Overall a glimpse into the past of an unfairly overlooked band but also a perhaps a glimpse into the future if they can build up a head of steam.