Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Hannah Miller - Hannah Miller : Hannah Miller Music

Take the famous quote ‘You don’t find love, it finds you’, alter the object to good music and the new album from Hannah Miller will cross your path. This release popped up from left field to my attention, displays all the credentials of that side of the music fence and will totally transfix those who fall victim to its predatory instinct. Losing yourself in the hypnotic indulgence of the record for forty minutes is no bad place to disappear for a few moments and we can all do with a little ‘me time' in this hectic world.

This album rarely changes gear, but enticingly finds that perfect groove to idle away those lazy summer evenings or seek warmer solace in colder times. Wrapped up in a raw package, the haunting vocals of Hannah match the astutely balanced musical background with a stunning equalising effect. It was of little surprise to learn that her life has revolved around the southern states of Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee as that gothic tendency that you associate with some aspects of the area’s musical heritage runs deep through the record.

The pivotal track on the album is ‘Promise Land’ and two versions of the song appear amongst the eleven offerings as a result of the piece being used in a documentary on the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The alternative version to that which went viral on You Tube features Jason Eskridge on background vocals and possesses a stunning mix of spine tingling electric guitar and organ. While being a focal point and an introductory lead into the music of Hannah, any suggestions of a stand-out number should be shelved as this is a record epitomised by the entity concept.

Devouring the lyrics and surmising their meanings is one of the joys of listening to this record which joins several other releases in Hannah’s back catalogue. The album was recorded in her now hometown of Nashville and the Music City analogy is stretched to include the sound of Hannah which is at the crossroads point where folk meets Americana and indie. Hannah has worked closely with Mitch Dane on the making of this record with the pair undertaking co-writing duties on three tracks leaving the rest the sole domain of Hannah’s imagination. Lyrically the album peaks on the song ‘Leaving’ with the line ‘momma keeps a hand gun in her dresser drawer. Last night I took it out and I knelt down on her bedroom floor’ which closes a dark view of family disharmony.

The record opens with the mystique sounding track ‘Help Me Out’ which eases into the second song ‘Fighting’ with its hidden soul. ‘You Don’t Call’ tackles the eternal subject of loss and regret, while ‘Soothed’ if anything takes the delightfully sombre mood even deeper. On a record far from devoid of clever and absorbing hooks, the organ laced ‘Been Around’ offers the best example of chorus delight and is closely followed by the enticing tones of ‘Outside In’. ‘Watchman’ encourages your imagination to wander much in the same vein as the final track ‘You Will Stay With Me’ which just leaves the Chernobyl version of ‘Promise Land’ to close this thoroughly enchanting album.

There is always something special about self-titled records suggesting an artist in a state of introspective reflection and Hannah Miller’s effort emerges as splendidly dark, absolutely alluring and stunningly simple. Its lyrical sparseness, raw undertones and sultry gleam make it a record of genuine appeal and one that fate may have played a hand in delivering it to me. 

www.hannahmillermusic.com

Angaleena Presley - Night and Day Cafe, Manchester. Monday 27th July 2015

Some artists play country music by numbers and follow the text book without exposing any soul. Others play it instinctively and it’s solidly embedded in their DNA. Angaleena Presley is definitely in the latter camp and exudes every ounce of her Kentucky coal mining upbringing in her craft. In a career which has had a steep upwards trajectory in recent times, Angaleena has finally taken the bold step to meet her growing overseas fan base on their own turf, or to be more accurate undertake a short UK tour. The Night and Day CafĂ©, in Manchester’s cultural Northern Quarter, hosted the second date on this visit and a well populated gathering in this slightly elongated-designed venue saw close at hand a finely tuned songwriter sharing her wares in a relaxed intimate setting.

For many years Angaleena pitched her songs like many Nashville based aspiring songwriter before experiencing a career launching break as part of the popular country female collaborative project the Pistol Annies. Eventually the long awaited debut Angaleena Presley solo record finally surfaced in 2014 to widespread acclaim and AMERICAN MIDDLE CLASS was rich in a substance of what every great country record needs. This tour was enabled on the back of the success of that album which benefited hugely from its independent origins and distribution through the Thirty Tigers network. Not surprisingly, a fair proportion of this record filtered through to the set list as Angaleena grasped the opportunity to bring many of the songs to context and given a sense of reality.

Although Angaleena had arranged a band backing for her higher profile gigs in London and at the Cambridge Folk Festival, this date took the setting of a seated solo performer with the intent to create some of the intimacy of the famed singer-songwriter circles in Nashville. Along with songs from the new album, a couple of Pistol Annies’ numbers were covered in ‘The Hunter’s Wife’ and ‘Lemon Drop’, as well as a Miranda Lambert recorded song which she co-wrote with her dear friend, ‘Fastest Girl in Town’.

With perhaps an eye to the future, there were several songs featured that are devoid of a recorded status at the moment and Angaleena indicated that she would be trying out some new material during the evening. Further information was a little scarce on these, but their initial entertainment value was high and in the true mould of Angaleena’s song writing style. This facet of her trade was in abundance in the songs selected from the album with the intrinsic link between ‘Knocked Up’ and ‘Drunk’ referenced to her ex-husband. A personal favourite from the album ‘Dry County Blues’ possessed all the grit and dark undercurrent in its live performance as has been devoured on many listens. ‘Better Off Red’ saw Angaleena a little misty eyed, while ‘Pain Pills’ extracted a deeper sense of emotion and was a major highlight of her eighty minute stage time.

First and foremost, Angaleena is a songwriter and occasional lapses in lyrical and chord rendition were forgiven by a smitten audience. When in full vocal stride, she packed a powerful punch to add extra impact to the substantial songs and perhaps needs a few more UK shows to settle into the groove of delivering an all-round polished and informative performance. Her affable and soulful traits are exceptional as well as an innate ability to reach across the spectrum of American roots music, connecting with those ingrained in mainstream country music and others from a left field Americana stance.

British duo Luke and Mel opened this show for Angaleena and delivered a thirty minute set of covers and originals which were in a similar vein to the new breed of home grown performers inspired by the modern output from Music City. This style is proving popular in certain quarters and there was plenty of love showed to the duo from many in attendance.

However this lengthy midweek journey on a wet and miserable British summer’s day was primarily to see the songs from one of last year’s stand out album releases brought to life and Angaleena duly delivered this as only one could from the memorable hometown of Beauty, Kentucky. Whether in the unlikely circumstance of a major label calling or the more likely scenario of tapping into the bottomless pit of her free and independent spirit, Angaleena Presley has an enormous future in the industry and can evolve as an established performer this side of the pond if she continues to keep us on her horizon. 


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Sunday, 26 July 2015

Vera Van Heeringen - Proper Brew : Wood and Steel Records

It is now pushing three years since Vera Van Heeringen launched her solo recording career with 2012’s STANDING TALL and finally the follow up is here in all its finesse and glory. The highly accurate title PROPER BREW bestows a record rich in the core ingredients of fine music, blended to perfection with the addition of an established list of players and a broad offering of instrumentation. Guided by Vera’s strong writing and deep rooted beautiful vocals, the record calls at all ports of country, folk, Americana and roots to offer a taste of everything to distinguished followers of cool music.

As suggested by the surname, Vera has her roots in the lowlands of continental Europe, but is now firmly established in the hills of North Wales. Various Transatlantic excursions have led to acquaintances with performers such as Dirk Powell and Tim O’Brien with both featuring on some part of the album. From the folk world this side of the pond, Kris Drever, Sam Sweeney and Neil McSweeney all lend a hand, with the latter of this trio joining Vera for the record’s only co-write ‘Wisdom’. Vera in turn takes solo credit for the other ten compositions including the guitar instrumental title track ‘Proper Brew’ delivered in collaboration with Drever.

The album kicks off with a storming opening track ‘Believer’ which gently rolls along in an optimistic mood adding plenty of fiddle and mandolin to a cracking melody holding together a lovely chorus. This sets the scene for a riveting forty-two minute listen concluded by the reflective number ‘It’s All Been Said’ generating an abiding thought that standards haven’t slipped throughout the record. Musically, the record hits a possible peak if you like your style countrified in ‘Riverside House’ where lashings of fiddle and steel swathe over a foot stomping number garnished with a sweet chorus.

The writing hits similar heights on a couple of numbers to reveal Vera’s skills in this creative field. The poignant message of the sadness behind forced emigration in the 1960’s is threaded throughout ‘Milk and Honey’ which is thought to be reference to the ‘trafficking’ between the UK and Australia at the time. The subtle music accompaniment to this song allows the lyrics to flourish including the album’s stand out line – ‘good white stock is worth the money’. Likewise ‘Mad Jack’ also reveals a depth to Vera’s writing and questions the concept of freedom from a veteran who gave so much to acquire it.

If you are looking for the general mood of this record then look no further than ‘Cold Winter Evening’ where the warmth fits neatly with the tender tones suggesting listening to the album may blossom further in the colder months. A touch of piano and harmony from Kris Drever adds to the appeal of this song. Such is the variety of inclusions and qualities, maybe it takes until the tenth track ‘My Sweet Man’ to fully appreciate the richness of Vera’s vocal contribution, but looking back it’s prevalent throughout.

Elements of this album infer to a stripped back tendency including the cover shot and pure raw sentiment is to be found in ‘Wildest Truth’, the penultimate track to be commented upon in this review. Bringing up the rear is the album’s second track ‘Never Enough Time’ which once again presents Vera’s writing in a positive light as she ponders the brevity of it all with a selection of contrasting thoughts.

PROPER BREW is a proud body of work for Vera Van Heeringen to present to the music world and is worthy of your consideration. As per usual, expect some live support for the record as it is pretty sure that the songs from the album will transmit well to a listening venue. While you wait for the live opportunity, checking out this record should be a high priority. 

www.veravanheeringen.com

Jason and the Scorchers - The Musician, Leicester. Friday 24th July 2015

Whether you consider them the blueprint for a maturing punk band or require a template to inject driving rock into an aspiring country band, Jason and the Scorchers is still a vivid reminder of how two worlds can collide for a dramatic effect. Sizzling electricity, flowing humility and fervent appreciation were just three features to describe their latest visit to the Musician in Leicester, which proudly displayed the ‘sold out’ board in the run up to this fabulous Friday night gig. Without the need for a support act on this occasion, Jason and his latest band of Scorchers flushed out thirty five years of material over the course of two and a half hours full of energy and devoid of any of the hindrances of time.

The cemented love between spectacular lead guitarist Warner E. Hodges and humble frontman Jason Ringenberg was in unrelenting mode as their chemistry is core to the Scorchers buzz and has been for many years. Warner effortlessly moves between country and rock licks with stunning effect, while Jason meets many an insightful musing with oozes of charisma as inspired by the architects of the post punk new wave era. It was around this time (early eighties), that the fresh faced Jason bounded into Nashville, Tennessee determined to break the mould with a new sound. Whether he succeeded is immaterial to the legions of Scorchers followers over the years, but EMI certainly took an interest for a couple of the band’s most productive years and many stories about this era surfaced during the evening.

Jason also remembered the late Scorchers drummer Perry Baggs who passed away in 2012. It is to the credit of new recruit, Swede Pontus Snibb that he is also highly rated by the appreciative Jason and adds the diversity of occasionally stepping forward to swap drum kit for guitar and lead vocals. For this short tour, regular bassist Al Collins was occupied elsewhere for shows with his wife Stacie and another Swede, Micke Nilsson stepped up to valiantly fill the second rhythm slot. As a combo they nailed song after song, mainly up tempo (as you would expect from a band with their roots), but equally lower key when Jason deals with classic country on its terms. However his thumping trademark cover of ‘Lost Highway’ showed how he set the agenda in the eighties for a pioneering sound that, while aligned with alt-country rock, had that unique new wave feel.

One of the aspects that thrills Jason when he tours the UK is the immensely positive reception of his 2010 album HALCYON TIMES. He rattled through half of this release during the show including tracks such as ‘Mona Lee’, ‘Getting Nowhere Fast’ and ‘Better Than This’. Jason said he was taking a request from himself for the encore and suitably delivered a fine rendition of ‘Twang Town Blues’ before the usual raucous finale. While this show was primarily about the energy of the Scorchers sound, a song that really stood out from the 1983 album FERVOR was ‘Pray for Me Mama (I’m a Gypsy Now)’, which saw Jason at his country best.

Of course it was the old favourites which oiled some action into the joints of the Scorchers faithful led by the Dylan fast paced re-work ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’, the homage to Parsons and McGuinn ‘Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man’, the exhilarating ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ and the closing rebel rouser ‘White Lies’. As at virtually every Scorchers concert, the audience lent a hand to ‘Broken Whiskey Glass’, the band’s signature tune which explodes mid-song into the most awesome change of pace. While it personally was a little sad that ‘Shop it Around’ wasn’t included, the story and playing of ‘Bible and a Gun’ with its Steve Earle origins made for a lauded replacement, explicitly perfecting one view of the South as perceived by many afar.

It has been nearly three years since Jason and the Scorchers last visited The Musician and the anticipated wait added an extra edge to the show. Local promoters Cheeseweasel deserve praise for continually bringing the band back to the wider Midlands area and it is fingers crossed for a repeat in the not too distant future. The final food for thought is perhaps the love shown towards HALCYON TIMES could add a spark to some new material and Jason Ringenberg is far too young and talented to slip comfortably into a retro mode, as much as folks love the old material.

It was the range of songs, explosive style and instant connection that made tonight special. Definitely a gig of the year candidate and one that will have many fans buzzing for a lengthy period after the show. Jason and the Scorchers is quite simply an amazing live band sounding still fresh and vibrant after all these years. 

www.jasonandthescorchers.com

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Della Mae - The Musician, Leicester. Tuesday 21st July 2015

The badge of Grammy nominated band is a proud one to possess and Della Mae wear theirs with great pride as they pursue the path of wider recognition. However this path is made a lot smoother when you’re one of the hottest bluegrass bands around, although Della Mae add loads more to the tag of that particular music style with a full on live show exploring many facets of the roots spectrum. Quite simply they have to be one of the strongest acts to make their UK debut this year and without a shadow of doubt, music followers will instantly fall in love with their infectious and outstanding live show which made a fleeting but memorable visit to The Musician in Leicester.

Celia
Now the owner of three impressive albums following the recent release of their self-titled latest effort, this five piece combo may spread themselves across the States in location, but when in unison they effortlessly twist the natural talent from the ingredient pool into a spectacular concoction of roots music. Vivaciously led by front person and main vocalist Celia Woodsmith, a high degree of fraternity explodes from the stage with fiddle, guitars, banjo, mandolin and bass, playing their part to illuminate a growing roster of exquisite songs. Forever in harmony, Celia though occasionally steps back to allow Jenni Lyn Gardner (mandolin, vocals) and Courtney Hartman (guitar, banjo. Vocals) take lead, while the prodigious and acclaimed fiddle talent of band instigator Kimber Ludiker injects finesse and class into every part, whether solo or accompanied. Not forgetting the steadying and critical input from the newest band member Zoe Guigueno on stand-up bass and the complete package is assembled to wow a spoiled audience.

Courtney
Jenni
Not surprisingly for this first Della Mae UK tour, the band announced that they would be focussing on the new album, but as the ninety minute set evolved there was plenty of the Grammy nominated 2013 record THIS WORLD OFT CAN BE showcased as well and brisk sales of both CDs during the gig highlighted their dual appeal. Although new to the UK, Della Mae are a well-travelled band as per their role as US music ambassadors which has included visiting fifteen countries last year as part of the State Department’s mission to spread the cultural word. The song ‘Long Shadow’, performed and co-written by Courtney, had its origins in Pakistan and was one of the tracks featured from the new album. Other occasions where Celia took a back seat included the singing of ‘Pine Tree’ by Jenni, who provides the southern influence through her South Carolina background, and a couple of fiddle tunes spearheaded by Kimber, namely ‘Nail That Catfish to a Tree’ and ‘Cartier’.

Kimber
While being excellent writers, the band are not averse to featuring the works of others and have included a cover of ‘No Expectations’ by the Rolling Stones on the new album. This track closed the main set before the band returned for an enjoyable bluegrass take on the Everly Brothers standard ‘Wake up Little Susie’. One of many highlights from this superb night of entertainment was Celia pouring her heart and soul into a version of ‘Woman Be Wise’ and adding lineage to a song previously graced by Bonnie Rait and Sippie Wallace. Of the band’s own compositions, ‘Boston Town’, the location of Della Mae’s inception, and the gospel influenced ‘High Away Gone’, complete with blistering harmonies, provided a lasting legacy from seeing the band for the first and certainly not for the last time. Right from the off with the gripping tune ‘Empire’, Della Mae set their stall out to be a band a cut above the rest.

Not content on booking one passion-filled roots band, the organisers asked rising UK rebel rousers CC Smugglers to open the show and their high energetic and instant impact take on acoustic music brought a busy venue literally to its feet. Led by lively lead singer Richie Prynne, it wasn’t too difficult to see why they are a highly sought after festival band and portray a hard working attitude to extract every ounce of old time musical spirit from their youngish souls. While their music is probably in developmental stage, the live show is profoundly tuned and work should not be in short supply for a focussed and studious band, explicitly blazing that good time trail.

Likewise, it would be an amazing and an unjust situation, if Della Mae did not leave a startling impression on this initial trip to our shores. The very notion that artists like these can leave the comforts of homeland adulation to test the overseas market is a testimony to their drive and ambition. Della Mae possesses plenty of this and it was an absolute privilege to witness their mastery close at hand. 

www.dellamae.com

Monday, 20 July 2015

Sarah Gayle Meech - The Musician, Leicester. Sunday 19th July 2015

It was the night Robert’s Western World from Lower Broadway Nashville descended onto a small music venue in the back streets of Leicester city centre. This may be stretching the imagination a little in terms of literal translation, but the spirit of the honky tonk was alive and kicking in the stage act of Sarah Gayle Meech at The Musician. Fresh from her residency at one of Music City’s premier night time tourist attractions, and on the back of cutting her second record, Sarah Gayle has jumped at the opportunity to export her bold and brash style of country music overseas. The British part of this European adventure mainly sees her talents captured by the nation’s northern club scene; although there was added excitement as she ventured south to illuminate one of the Midlands established listening venues for touring Americana and country acts.

To phrase a couple of words from the modernist vocabulary, Sarah Gayle was ‘stoked’ and ‘hyped’ to be playing a stage previously graced by Dale Watson and Eileen Rose as well as treading the boards a little more than a week before Jason and the Scorchers hit town. By now you should be getting the image that Sarah Gayle has her feet firmly planted in the field of country music that is not the flavour of the day for mainstream genre movers and shakers. To this extent, she is emerging as a key player in the Ameripolitan movement and is the latest recipient of the Female Outlaw of the Year Award from that organisation.

For nearly two hours on this July evening, a highly respectable Sunday night crowd was wooed by a performer brimming with confidence, high on impact and a staunch traditionalist with an incumbent heart-on-sleeve attitude. Enthusiastically supported by a small section of the gathering determined to embrace the sentiment of the show, Sarah Gayle gave a glimpse of what encompasses a Nashville residency with a pair of sets packed full of classic covers and a raft of originals with more than a hint of influence from the golden age of country music.

Although Sarah Gayle embarked on this adventure as a solo performer, she has hooked up with a British band which had little trouble easing her through the country songbook with their smart playing led by fine lead guitar and excellent pedal steel. Sarah Gayle exuded an incredibly strong persona to put every inch of personal sinew into her stage performance which is what is probably needed to hold your own in many establishments back home. The result was a unique show for this country and one filled with immense pleasure from the opening strains of ‘Heartaches by the Number’ to a closing rendition of the George Jones favourite ‘White Lightning’.

There is a fine line in credibility circles between the subtle and overindulgent use of cover versions. Sarah Gayle skirted this line with a string of very familiar old favourites from artists such as Merle Haggard, Loretta Lyn, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings, but kept to the right side in attempting to re-create the authenticity of a demanding residency right in the heart of the country music capital. However Sarah Gayle is far more than an interpreter of music, as has been evidenced in her two outstanding original albums to date. TENNESSEE LOVE SONG is the latest release and a prime reason for undertaking this tour as a promotional tool, although the songs from her debut record ONE GOOD THING had the more lasting appeal upon reflection after the show.

This 2011 release is the earthier of the two records and from its grooves, ‘Little White Boots’, ‘All I Want is a Honky Tonk’ and ‘Honey Put Your Money Where Your Mouth is’ were amongst the highlights of the show. It seemed that the tracks from this record were more prevalent in the set list with ‘Tennessee Love Song’ and ‘Watermelon and Root Beer’ leading the way from the new album. Sarah Gayle selected a couple of older original numbers to play during the mid-set segue where she played a string of acoustic numbers while the band had a breather. ‘Foolish’ and ‘Unlucky in Love’ from the older record were incorporated into this segment.

Originating from the Pacific North West region, an area not normally know for country music but still the original home of a couple of today’s outstanding performers in Brandy Clark and Zoe Muth, Sarah Gayle cut her musical cloth in the Californian scene prior to locating to Tennessee. This West Coast influence extended into celebrating the work of two iconic performers who made their name in that area, namely Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam. Whether belting out old favourites or promoting her own work, Sarah Gayle bestowed an air of consistency to the proceedings and this fuelled an incredibly enjoyable gig which began with the chosen support for the evening.

Josh Chandler Morris and Carly Slade are an English duo from Milton Keynes who straddles their act at the point where country music merges more into a folk Americana sound. Their thirty minute slot was packed with impressively constructed songs, strong on melody and delivered from a pair of finely tuned vocalists. They varied the delivery between occasional individual solo efforts and the more widely used harmony mode. Josh’s acoustic guitar was the main musical accompaniment with Carly’s couple of banjo pieces adding a traditional element to their sound. The superb ‘Who’s Gonna Hold Your Hand’ and the gospel piece ‘Angels in Heaven’ were among the set’s highlights and are featured on the duo’s single release. They are certainly an act worth checking out on the circuit.

It was a delight to host Sarah Gayle Meech at a Midlands venue and she confirmed previous listening promise as an artist who can make an enormous impression with their live presence. She proved to be the real deal and extremely accomplished in the style of country music close to her heart and core to her mission. If this journey continues to have the UK on its horizon then many folks over here are going to be happy people and Sarah Gayle Meech can continue to carve out an increasing level of recognition. 

www.sarahgaylemeech.com

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Mary Chapin Carpenter + Bella Hardy - Birmingham Town Hall. Wednesday 15th July 2015

You should never underestimate the enduring appeal of Mary Chapin Carpenter and the loyalty of her UK fan base. There may not have been a new record to promote, but a near-packed out Birmingham Town Hall showed oodles of love to the widely acclaimed singer-songwriter as she returned to the city after a couple of years break. Admittedly the lack of new material did not duly concern a majority of the audience as they enthusiastically applauded the intro to many of Mary’s old favourites.

In fairness, Mary has kept in touch with the city since her last headline appearance at the same venue. This included slots at the neighbouring Symphony Hall with the Transatlantic Sessions and a joint intimate show with Shawn Colvin. However this time, the sole spotlight was on a thirty year recording career, of which a serious chunk took place on the mainstream stage. Whatever Mary has done in her career, acclaim has followed and the most recent bout was her Songs from the Movie project which hit UK halls and theatres last year with the backing of a major orchestral accompaniment. Alas Birmingham was omitted from that run of shows, but Mary more than made up with a string of popular numbers that filled her 90 minute plus set.

This short tour was a billed as a trio show with Mary being supported by long-time colleague Jon Carroll on piano and new recruit Jonathan Trebing on assorted guitars. The quality of the musicianship on stage was highly distinguished with the only possible improvement being the addition of a rhythm section to tap into the venue’s sonic majesty. Opening with ‘The Age of Miracles’, Mary soon tossed in the popular material from what she referred to as the ‘dark ages’, as she reeled off ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’, ‘This Shirt’ and ‘Passionate Kisses’.

The latter of this trio was unique in the fact it was not one of Mary’s own compositions, indeed it came from another American songwriter of her generation in Lucinda Williams. This led onto Mary’s most compelling story of the evening about the time she toured Australia with Lucinda and Rosanne Cash for a series of song writing circle shows. The very thought of those three getting together again would be enough to excite many a seasoned Americana music follower. This evening’s version of ‘Passionate Kisses’ was reduced to almost half the speed of the original and this worked well in the stripped back environment of the mini band.

In her own trademark softly spoken and cosmopolitan vocal style, Mary excelled on tender numbers like ‘Transcendental Reunion’ and ‘What If We Went to Italy’, while continuing to please many with more up tempo versions of ‘I Feel Lucky’, ‘I Take My Chances’ and ‘He Thinks He’ll Keep Her’. This last number was part of a two song encore where Mary invited opening artist Bella Hardy to join her on vocals. The enlisting of Bella to support Mary on this tour was a master stroke on behalf of the promotion as we got to enjoy one of the leading progressive female voices on the UK folk circuit, on the same bill as a likeminded American legend.

In contrast to Mary, Bella is in the throes of promoting a new album and WITH THE DAWN is the title of this excellent record. Flanked by guitarist Anna Massie, Bella used the bulk of her forty minute set to share tunes from this release including ‘Time Wanders On’, ‘The Darkening of the Day’ and ‘Jolly Good Luck to the Girl That Loves a Soldier’. Bella wisely used this larger than usual platform to mainly showcase the songs leaving less than normal time for her engaging stories and relevant musings. However we did learn about the background to the song ‘Hatfield’, but sadly ‘Herring Girl’ didn’t have its usual delightful introduction. No doubt when Bella returns to the area in October for her Bromsgrove date, the full flow of the prose will be in force.

Without the full band to send everybody home dancing to her classic good time Cajun hit ‘Down at the Twist and Shout’, Mary chose to end the show singing solo with her trusty acoustic guitar and politely asked the audience whether she could share a new tune with them. In true Mary Chapin Carpenter tradition, the song recalled to be titled ‘Things That We Are Made Of’ was shaped by the usual finesse that we are used to and heralded the start of the next phase of her career with the recording of a new album.

With such a positive reaction from the crowd in terms of both numbers turning up and standing ovations, there is little doubt that Mary will return to the city to promote the album in the not too distant future. Hopefully, a full band will be brought next time, so that we can enjoy the complete Mary Chapin Carpenter experience and once again appreciate an icon of the cultured American singer-song writing movement.  




www.bellahardy.com