Tuesday, 12 November 2019

GIG REVIEW: The Remedy Club + Hope in High Water - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Monday 11th November 2019

The Remedy Club
A quick check in the gig archives revealed it was only February and April last year when Hope in High Water and The Remedy Club respectively made their last visits to the Kitchen Garden. Maybe the crazy amount of gigs in the intervening period made these shows feel a lot longer ago. Roughly eighteen months since both duos last dropped into Kings Heath has seen developments move quickly to the point where one has a new album, and the other will not be too far behind on the evidence revealed during this appearance. This gig was part of a run of dates arranged in liaison with the Fish Records operation, key drivers in helping both acts get wider recognition around the UK.

With the pre-gig promotion seemingly evenly balanced, it could have been a toss up to who took centre stage, but it eventually panned out that Hope in High Water opened proceedings with an extended fifty-minute support set. This left The Remedy Club with around half an hour extra following the obligatory short interval to give folks a glimpse of what they are about.

A chunk of this extra time was given over to covers, but the Irish duo of Aileen Mythen and KJ McEvoy have a subtle and smart way interweaving the work of others into their set. Covering Lucinda Williams' 'Can't Let Go' followed a link of both artists working with producer Ray Kennedy, while it was only going to be appropriate to share a Hank song after The Remedy Club's own tribute to the effect of the great man in 'Listening to Hank Williams'. Celebrating the work of Elmore James reflected the duo's own blues-inspired past and who can knock an Irish act paying respect to Rory Gallagher.

Hope in High Water
While comparisons in set up were on the surface, you only had to dig a little deeper to uncover the contrasts. First up, Hope in High Water, the performing name for Josh and Carly, hail from Milton Keynes and are now in the phase of promoting their second full album release. BONFIRE & PINE is literally only days old, but like so many releases, it had been a long time in the run up between owning the songs and ultimately sharing them in a recorded format. Starting their set with the album opener 'Healed', they went on to play the title track, 'It's Over Now', 'Pray Away', 'Grenfell' and a few others during their allotted time slot. The penultimate one of this quartet has emerged as an early front runner in being the album pick, while the latter possesses an emotive strength to push forward the social commentary side of their writing. It is ironic that 'Grenfell' was released in the same week as another song about this tragedy, 'The Fire' written by Jamie Freeman and Ben Glover, gained an AMA UK song of the year nomination. Adversity does inspire important song writing and Hope in High Water's effort possesses equal credibility to the widely acclaimed other composition. 

Maintaining the contrast theme, Josh and Carly give their whole operation a greater roots sheen than their touring colleagues, to the extent where they dig quite deep for song inspiration. They represent a slightly introspective 'from the ground up approach', appropriate to the lifestyle they candidly share with live audiences. Every ounce of recognition received pays dividends for choices made and they are the epitome of a DIY stance to making music, plus a sign of a grass roots scene being in rude health.

The Remedy Club are a far more expansive duo. There is showbiz tinge to how they present their music, fired through Aileen's theatrical background that seeps into the way her vocals are projected. Likewise KJ's extrovert guitar skills pepper a series of songs resonating with serious hooks and more than a nod in the direction of popular appeal. These styles do manifest into creating an imaginative and memorable live show leaving those caught in their midst searching for a little more in the aftermath. This latest sortie across the Irish Sea sees the duo armed with some new songs that will form a new album release in the near future. One of the new songs has just been released as a single with 'True Hand-True Heart' invoking more than touch of invited audience participation. The true gem from the upcoming batch was 'Sweet Symphony', indicating that 2017's LOVERS, LEGENDS AND LOST CAUSES will be joined by a worthy follow up. However, this album may not be ready to give its mantle up yet as exemplified by fine performances of 'When Tom Waites Up' and 'Bottom of the Hill'.

Factors may deem that this evening's gig at the Kitchen Garden in Birmingham quickly fades into the memory as both The Remedy Club and Hope in High Water strive for some some level of plateau their music warrants. Yet there was something true, organic and connective about a show that may only live on in the virtual world of this site. Diamonds in the dust come from unlikely places. 


Bonfire & Pine available here


Sunday, 10 November 2019

GIG REVIEW: The Delines - St.John the Evangelist, Oxford. Saturday 9th November 2019

Three assertions from this evening: Willy Vlautin and Amy Boone are exclusively compatible vehicles for each others art; the sedative-induced brass element gives the sound a more jazz than soulful feel, and The Delines are immense at magnifying a heavily curated album style in a live setting. Every column inch and word of mouth praise accrued in 2019 on the back of releasing THE IMPERIAL at the beginning of the year came to fruition at this sold out Oxford gig. Sheer class oozed from the stage as we were firmly reminded that it may be late in the calender year but pure polished gems can appear at any time.

On a personal front, The Delines experience began in June 2014 when they played the small room at the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham to around fifty people. This evening the audience must have been pushing to the unconfirmed four hundred mark such is the interest generated. Much of this has been the buzz around the new album, which acted as the main follow up to the 2014 debut COLFAX, although a lower profile release did appear in the interim period. This period did include UK shows where shamefully paths didn't cross, however the biggest unfortunate episode in the last five years was Amy Boone's accident, inevitably putting a huge dent in The Delines project. Happily she is now in a position to not only perform but tour overseas, with perhaps an added zest to make the most of a talent that is flourishing in this operation.

First and foremost, The Delines is the brainchild of Willy Vlautin; a main focus for him now the Richmond Fontaine days are in the past. An exceptional all round writer and guitar playing band leader, he seems to have found the perfect vocal foil in Amy Boone to unleash this latest bout of song writing. To a large extent, she acts as a narrator, albeit one with a beautifully exquisite voice, acting with acute precision to execute often explicitly driven story songs.

Going back to the soul debate, the music of The Delines definitely comes more from the head than the heart. There is a calculated side to how they operate leading to a tight knit delivery. From an audience perspective the sound element is far more projected through the keyboard and trumpet playing of key band member Cory Gray. The tempo and strings section is so deft, delicate and unobtrusive it lingers in the background absolutely extolling the virtue: less is more. Exactly like a top class official at a sports event being highly effective without taking centre stage. The focal point of any gig The Delines perform is going to be Amy Boone and the songs of Willy Vlautin that she wonderfully conveys to a blessed audience. The whole five-piece band format in tandem tonight gears towards this goal.

A personal viewpoint expressed all year has been that 'Eddie and Polly' edges 'Holly the Hustle' as the leading song on the new album. However there was role reversal this evening as the latter for instinctive reasons came across better. One constant all show was the desire to hang onto and savour every lyric Amy wrapped her vocal cords around. Right from 'That Haunted Old Place' in the set's early stages to the old favourite 'Oil Rigs at Night' at the heart of a four-song encore, this show was an intense yet highly pleasurable listening experience.

This latter song was one of the early introductions into the work of The Delines alongside the track 'Colfax Avenue' that also appeared in the set list tonight. While the focus of the show was mainly on the latest album, we were treated to both sides of a single recorded in Montana, with 'Eight Floors Up'  opening the set just after nine o'clock and 'Wait for Me' (the b side of the single) being one of a couple of songs Amy delivered from behind the keyboard. The latter moments allowed the trumpet of Cory Gray to be more directly expressed.

From a genre perspective, I would place The Delines right at the heart of Americana, maybe more from a wider social scale than a means for getting music to market. I lost count the number of places mentioned in songs, but will have a stab at Fort Worth, El Paso, Atlanta, Phoenix, Albuquerque and New Orleans for starters. Woven in between the themes, characters, places and issues are beautifully crafted songs proclaiming the worth of their originator.

Opening for The Delines for this and other shows on the tour was the experienced duo Jody Stephens and Luther Russell operating as the front piece of the band Those Pretty Wrongs. They are obviously artists steeped in the tradition of rock 'n' rollers edging into the early confines of alt-country and pre-Americana. They lent on a formula of harmonies and twang, and when in full flow came across as a decent act, whilst providing a good support choice for the refiner sounds of The Delines.

This Oxford show was held in the grand surroundings of St. John the Evangelist, a church with a well appointed interior that is clearly geared to hosting the arts alongside its prime purpose of existence. It is a venue occasionally used by promoter Empty Rooms Promotions and one that I last visited in 2014 to see Sarah Jarosz.

There has only been three Oxford gig trips this year, but the trio of Dale Watson, Ryan Bingham and The Delines make it a choice of only the best. With the gig year coming to a close, this show made a strong case for the personal favourite of the year, a thought that will be mulled over during the next six weeks. In the meantime, let's just reflect on the marvellous music made by The Delines, whether on record or on display in Oxford this evening.