Thursday, 8 November 2018

GIG REVIEW: First Aid Kit - O2 Academy, Birmingham. Wednesday 7th November 2018

Hare and Hounds to Symphony Hall to Academy is an upwards journey in terms of capacity, and one taken by First Aid Kit on their visits to Birmingham over the last eight years. Whether you consider the last two a progression is down to preference, but the numbers do not lie. The Söderberg sisters are certainly operating on a higher plane than when they brought the Stay Gold tour to the city in 2015. Sold out signs have flashed above First Aid Kit shows right across this UK segment of the Ruins World Tour and it would have been rude for Birmingham not to oblige. Inviting The Staves along to open the shows was also a smart move. This must have been a record for sisterly siblings on one night, further compounded when all five assembled around the single mic for a song during the main set. Harmonies ruled the roost for most of the evening and shining evidence radiated from the stage as to why First Aid Kit are currently riding on one enormous crest of a wave.

Moving into the realms of serious headline contenders, both on the festival circuit and venues just shy of arena status, has seen the band ramp up the live show, significantly raise the decibels and interject the usual trimmings of lights and backdrop. Some adjustment was required when catching the band earlier in the summer at the Cambridge Folk Festival, which in turn probably helped tune in better to what the sisters and their three-piece backing band presented on their own headline shows. For around an hour and half, they toyed with folk, rock, country and the occasional good old European drinking song, just a reminder that you can drench the person with American culture but you can never drain away the origin.

While wooing fans from the mainstream to join genre junkies who hooked up with them a while ago, the strength of Johanna and Klara Söderberg lies in an extraordinary ability to write and deliver the most compelling of songs. Just to name three from this set to absolutely pierce your heart were the stunning ‘Stay Gold’, ‘Emmylou’ and ‘Fireworks’. You will have to step up the gig count to hear such an esteemed trio dealt so crisply and evocatively to an audience hanging onto every line, note and vocal breath.

On the more upbeat numbers such as ‘Master Pretender’, ‘My Silver Lining’ and ‘You are the Problem Here’ the complete band sound takes full control with electric guitar adding fuel to heavy percussion and sparkling keys. My awareness of Melvyn Duffy on pedal steel pre-dates his involvement with First Aid Kit when he was a key member of Tex Mex band Los Pacaminos. He seems to have really found his feet now, adding occasional mandolin and electric guitar to his beloved steel, a sound he effortlessly drives to add a country touch alongside a general landscape feel.

A quick break to offer some thoughts on The Staves, a band that have flickered on my distant horizon for several years, reveals a trio rich in sound and the owners of some of the most delectable harmonies you could wish to hear. What has always held them back from penetrating my inner listening core is a series of songs that land a powerful punch. Whether that changes with the new album promised mid-way through their forty-minute opening set remains to be seen. Conditions are ripe for a breakthrough and any new material will get a fair hearing.

Powerful songs are not in short supply in the First Aid Kit locker. From the opening track, ‘Distant Star’, delivered by Johanna and Klara theatrically standing on a raised platform at the rear of the stage as the curtain raised, through to older numbers like ‘The Lion’s Roar’ and ‘King of The World’, it was one substantive song after another. The new album was moderately represented, although the adorable ‘Postcard’ has been disappointingly sidelined from the set list, possibly a little too country for a mainstream crowd. Never mind, it is a fabulous song already getting many personal plays, a trend likely to continue for a while yet.

From a spoken perspective, the girls were most vocal when passionately advocating their wholehearted support for culture change in how gender crimes are perceived. Cue Klara showing a steely pose while delivering the aforementioned ‘You are the Problem Here’ and the sisters fighting back in the song ‘Ugly’, recently released on a spill over EP of some folk orientated tracks omitted from the more commercially focused RUINS.

This whole performance from First Aid Kit was one of zest, panache and a classic exhibition of a band on top of their game. They successfully reach out from a core that will always retain a slice of folk ‘n’ country, while steering clear of any chunks of compromise. If anything, they are a breath of fresh air among artists pitched alongside in the channels of corporate marketing. A sold out 02 Academy in Birmingham would testify strongly. An arena next time, who knows? Success would not be begrudged and there is total faith that Johanna and Klara Söderberg will still effortlessly deliver their adorable songs in any setting.


Tuesday, 6 November 2018

GIG REVIEW: Kim Richey and Ben Glover - Kitchen Garden, Birmingham. Monday 5th November 2018

They may have been treading familiar ground, but any traces of complacency burnt away on a mild Bonfire night. Earlier this year Kim Richey and Ben Glover played their own shows at the Kitchen Garden in Birmingham. Any lingering doubts about the viability of re-booking so soon withered away as a healthy turnout instantly switched on to the fact that they made a wise Monday evening choice. From the opening bars of each performer’s first song, defining molds were set. ‘Thorn in My Heart’ oozes the absolute class that has kept Kim Richey at the heart of definitive Nashville song writing for well over two decades, while the gritty underbelly of ‘Catbird Seat’ shines a fascinating light on Ben Glover’s increasing eminence of being an acclaimed source of deep rooted songs without compromise.

Comparisons and contrasts ran amok during this near two-hour show, which steered clear of a formulaic slant that can prevail when two independents collude. Harmonies, support vocals, joint playing, solo spots and a plain old duet all featured across of a pair of sets starting in rotation before meandering into slightly random territory. The duet came in the form of ‘Dancing with the Beast’, a Ben co-write with Gretchen Peters, adding a third looming figure on the evening, in spirit maybe. You can even add a fourth in the guise of Mary Gauthier, who worked so diligently with Ben in pumping life into ‘Catbird…’ and the rugged homage to Robert Johnson in ‘Oh Soul’, a standout candidate on the evening. It was fitting that all four artists were over here playing UK shows in May/June and key figures in a vibrant Nashville songwriting scene.

Both Kim and Ben are the architects of exceptional solo albums released this year. EDGELAND has surfaced as Kim Richey’s most acclaimed record in years, as evidenced by boundless critical praise. Songs such as ‘Pin a Rose’, ‘Chase Wild Horses’ and ‘Your Dear John’ reveal a dedicated poise and sophistication. Even ‘Whistle on Occasion’ brimmed with sparkle as Ben stepped into Chuck Prophet’s shoes admirably. One surefire success on the collaboration front was always going to be ‘Ride the River’, one of the earworm standout tracks from Ben’s latest record SHOREBOUND.

Moments were also precious when each artist gave the other total space to deliver the immaculate individualistic song. ‘Kindness’ saw Ben conjure up some idealistic romanticism and perhaps set an agenda for many to follow. ‘A Place Called Home’ projected Kim Richey at her finest and possibly own the show’s Champagne three minutes.

As you would expect from two singer-songwriters sparking off each other, stories flowed freely, though never suffocating the song. The TV show Grey's Anatomy may be a little more palatable knowing the beautiful Kim Richey song ‘The Absence of Your Company’ featured, while how can any Ben Glover show not celebrate the innovation of his Orphan Brigade project and the haunting tones of ‘Trouble My Mind (Oh Harriet)’.

A Nashville citizen by residency will always align with Ben Glover - the proud Northern Irishman from Co. Antrim, as long as songs like ‘Heart in Your Hand’ focus on the life changing process of emigration, a songwriting thread for a number of years. In contrast, there is an air of consistency around the work of Kim Richey with ‘Wreck Your Wheels’ sounding as sweet as when the album of the same name came out in 2010.

The final two songs from the sets to spice this review went a long way to framing the show. Song writing will never lose its fascination as long as compositions like ‘Blackbirds’ evolve from the depths of god knows where, through the pen to the vibes of a prominent track. Any Ben Glover/Gretchen Peters co-write is likely to simmer, bubble and permeate the psyche of a songwriting junkie for a long time. The night’s finale of ‘The Parting Glass’ was fairly standard in selection, but forever faultless in an unplugged exhibition of the beauty and the rugged.

The union of Kim Richey and Ben Glover was a rare treat, perfectly highlighting the 365 interaction of the Kitchen Garden and the wonderful songwriters that grace its surroundings.

www.kimrichey.com



www.benglover.co.uk

Saturday, 3 November 2018

GIG REVIEW: Karine Polwart - Town Hall, Birmingham. Friday 2nd November 2018

Photo by Robin Gillanders
It was music fit for the lavish setting. By her own admission, Karine Polwart has not made many visits to the West Midlands to play shows in the past, so the opportunity to bring her current tour to Birmingham Town Hall was too good to turn down. It does not matter where your prior appreciation or awareness of her music sits on the barometer; by the end of the show, you attain the status of a fully-fledged knowledgeable fan.

Not only is Karine Polwart the source of many wondrous songs, the background and inspiration to them is enchanting, enlightening and dealt with heaps of guile and craft. Adeptly assisted by a band comprising of her brother Steven on guitars and multi-instrumentalist Inge Thomson, the trio glided through two precious sets full of new songs, older numbers and the odd surprise. At the heart of the content are myths, observations and personal experiences from their Scottish home, a land that has placed Karine Polwart at the heart of the folk scene for many years.

The centerpiece of the current tour is the release of the latest album LAWS OF MOTION. By the time Karine mentioned the record via the title track towards the end of the first set, several songs from it had already been enjoyed alongside learning about their origin. Politics has often been a fruitful source for Karine and right from the off we were treated to the inventive piece ‘I Burn But I am Not Consumed’ taking its cue as a response to the 45th President of the United States from the land of his ancestry. Politics with a small ‘p’ plays a part in the song ‘Suitcase’, which draws its inspiration from forced emigration from Eastern Europe to Scotland in 1938 and generally reflecting modern day migration. Most songs from the new album had an informative introduction, so we learned that ‘Cornerstone’ draws on the experience of visiting the Isle of May and ‘Young Man on a Mountain’ recalls her grandfather’s joint ventures on active war service in Italy and a more serene life in the forests of Scotland.

Before we leave the new album, a special word for ‘Ophelia’, which was probably the stand out song of the evening and one that launched the second set. Perhaps a song that let its beauty do the talking as no introduction was required.

As indicated, Steven Polwart did most of the string work, although Karine did sidestep from her Shruti Box to acoustic guitar on more than one occasion. By far the most intriguing aspect of the sound is the contribution of Inge Thomson. Surrounded by a concoction of percussive, electronic and organic instruments, she came across as a fair distance from the folk purist world to the extent of experimenting with loops alongside more conventional accordion work. However, the soundtrack worked a treat and played the perfect foil to Karine’s beautiful unblemished vocals.

It was not all the domain of original material. A song by Sidney Carter, ‘Crow on the Cradle’, can be found on the new album and appeared in the first set, alongside a tribute to Scott Hutchison, the late front man of Scottish rock band Frightened Rabbits, with a cover of ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’. You could sense the populist divide between this song and the distinct folk numbers, a trait expanded further later on when the trio launched into a fun, and different version, of the seventies chart topper ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’.

Many people leaving a Karine Polwart concert would be entirely justified in celebrating the feathered thread as the stand out moments. In the final throes of the show, Karine recounted the myth of the robin obtaining its red breast before launching into ‘The Robin’, ended the second set with her signature tune ‘King of Birds’ and eventually closed the evening with her own favourite of the species, ‘Follow the Heron’.

The splendour of Birmingham Town Hall is never a presence to be under estimated when enjoying a show in the venue. Maybe thoughts do sometimes drift to the need for Birmingham to utilise a smaller theatre-style setting when getting anywhere close to selling out a 900-capacity venue is beyond the pull of an artist. However, any substitute would fall short in the grandeur stakes.

Thinking back, Karine Polwart was last seen in concert at the Artrix in nearby Bromsgrove six years ago. In hindsight this was far too long, but enjoying a full two-hour exhibition of inspirational Scottish folk music has started the compensation process. Leaving the venue informed, inspired and fully entertained is all you can ask for from putting your money down. 

www.karinepolwart.com

Thursday, 1 November 2018

GIG REVIEW: American Aquarium - Night & Day Cafe, Manchester. Wednesday 31st October 2018

“I traded my youth, for three chords and the truth,” cries BJ Barham midway through his fiery response to a Southern Baptist upbringing. ‘Crooked + Straight’ may have taken a generation to burst out, but it goes a long way to defining the state of defiance and retribution flowing through an American Aquarium live show. 2018 is brewing up to be a landmark year for this band operating out of Raleigh North Carolina. A brand new album titled THINGS CHANGE (and the home of the aforementioned track) has emerged from a revolutionary all-change in personnel and a raft of dates both at home and abroad has followed to re-enforce them as one of the best US touring bands currently stepping foot on British soil.

While the entity of American Aquarium is a wholly owned subsidiary of BJ Barham – the songwriter, musician, performer and inspiration - such an assertion is a little disingenuous to the stellar line up of crack musicians assembled for this latest re-incarnation of the band. Ace pedal steel picker Adam Kurtz and top lead guitarist Shane Boeker joined Barham out front on the cramped stage at Manchester’s Night and Day Café, but these guys would be the first to acknowledge the backroom trio of bassist Ben Hussey, Joey Bybee on drums and a keyboard player ripping up the B3 with a name that will come to me eventually!


Anthony D'Amato
As good as the band is during this all too short run of three England dates on the latest European tour, the focus on any American Aquarium gig is always going to be the all-consuming emotive bout of heart and soul that BJ Barham pours into every song. His unassuming style would no doubt respond that he is just doing his job, but he takes going the extra mile to a new level. Standing five foot from such an inspirational band leader playing the show of his life (likely to be every show, mind you) is the ultimate live music experience and the reason that American Aquarium are a band that you do not mind travelling a distance to see.

This show in Manchester revealed a nineteen-strong song set list spanning an hour and half with a strict curfew meaning music probably curtailed some chat. Briefly, Barham mentioned sobriety and growing up in Reidsville North Carolina, curtly responded to gig talkers and request shouters, while really leaving what he has to say in the multitude of songs now spreading well into a second decade.

Only once did the band leave the stage for Barham to deliver on his own, but the performance of ‘Unfortunate Kind’ off the solo ROCKINGHAM record, conducted in a commendable pin drop environment, was utterly mesmerising. This 2016 album, which got a UK release on At The Helm Records, also supplied the title track and ‘American Tobacco Company’ to the set list, the latter re-enforcing  Barham’s southern soul searching and storytelling alongside determination to rinse out the afflictions that surround his homeland and personal experience. Political writing does play a part in his art and ‘The World is on Fire’ from the new album mixes personal and policy especially in the significant line “if anyone builds a wall in her journey, baby burst right through it”. New family is certainly stoking the fire.

One astute comment was giving Manchester tough praise in commenting that there is a degree of dirt to the city, and is the type of place where the feeling of being stabbed resides next to some establishment offering a £25 haircut. A city he duly liked. As a non-resident of Manchester, I could not possibly comment, but the point is heard.

Superb songs just continually ticked off as the set unraveled. ‘Wolves’, ‘Hurricane’, ‘Betting Man’, ‘Losing Side of Twenty Five’, a cover of John Prine’s ‘Sweet Revenge’, any list of potential highlights is everlasting. A decent sound system in the venue allowed each lyric from Barham’s gravelly delivery to decipher, an outcome that also commends the band’s guile and craft. Pedal steel of the highest quality was prevalent all night, and it was noted that fellow top player Smokin’ Brett Resnick took a night off from playing in Kasey Musgraves’ band to pop along and join the audience.

Joining American Aquarium on this tour is New York based singer-songwriter Anthony D’Amato. His thirty-minute opening slot is a cut above what you get on the live touring circuit and represents an artist rapidly justifying the positive words that are seeping out. Assisted by the token acoustic guitar and harmonica, he came across as an accomplished artist, comfortably at ease in both a hipster bar setting in his home borough of Brooklyn and less salubrious establishments when the roads get dustier. Joining songs from his previous release COLD SNAP were a few numbers from an upcoming record including ‘The Oyster and the Pearl’, a track already out there to listen, buy and enjoy.

Twelve months ago, American Aquarium played a sensational show in Oxford that was just edged out by Chuck Prophet as gig of the year. Time will tell whether this night will go one-step further. However, there is nothing more BJ Barham and the boys could do to meet every ideal craved from the live music experience. Whether you want to anoint this band as country, alt-country, Americana or just good ole fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, the fun is in listening, believing and relishing everything they set out to accomplish. In the song ‘Casualties’, BJ Barham proclaims that, “now, I’m just a casualty of rock ‘n’ roll”. Probably best summing up American Aquarium is that they start out full of country sentiment before finding the fault lines of rock ‘n’ roll, not a bad place to be though. A wonderful fulfilling gig from an awesome band sums the night up perfectly. 

www.americanaquarium.com

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

GIG REVIEW: Rachel Harrington - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Monday 29th October 2018

Rachel Harrington’s overseas music career has had two phases. Between 2007 and 2012, the singer-songwriter from the Pacific North West recorded three successful solo records and a one off country project as front person of the Knockouts. Additionally, she toured UK and Europe countless times utilising the solo, duo and band formats. This focus away from her American home met with critical praise including a session recorded for the Bob Harris Country Show on BBC radio. An extended hiatus followed that was only broken last year when making a tentative return to play a few UK summer shows. Among the dates on the tour was a first ever visit to the Kitchen Garden in Birmingham. Now the music rehabilitation is in full swing another overseas trip followed and with no surprises, a repeat engagement at the Kings Heath venue ensued.

The show put on by Rachel was of a similar vein to last year. She used the first half to share some of her older material including a few requests from fans that have actively followed her for years. Among the set of original tunes played this evening, ‘Karen Kane’, ‘Under the Big Top’ and ‘Carver’ were from memory additions to what made the show last year. On the other hand, there was no mistaking the repeat playing of firm old favourites ‘Sunshine Girl’, ‘Spokane’ and ‘He Started Building My Mansion in Heaven Today’. Supplementing each song was the ubiquitous backstory, an art that Rachel has perfected over the years.  Some of the stories were new while others retained an air of familiarity, the natural consequence of following an artist for over a decade.

Similar to last year Rachel switched focus after the break to share some of her favourite cover songs, a love that has helped rekindle her desire to play music again. Most of these were familiar tunes with ‘Unknown Legend’, ‘Ode to Billy Jo’ and ‘Dublin Blues’ featuring last year. Although once again from memory, ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain’ and ‘Those Memories of You’, the latter from the original Trio album, were new additions for this year. In true Rachel Harrington tradition, the gospel tune ‘I Don’t Want to Get Adjusted to this World’ was her parting gift to an appreciative audience.

A few of these songs are set to feature on an upcoming covers album that Rachel has self-recorded, but alas physical copies were not available for fans to purchase on this tour. Plans are afoot for her to return to the UK to play some shows next summer, so this omission should rectify then.

Although there is strong evidence online of new music coming soon, it was strange that not a mention was voiced during the show. Maybe a little insight or sneak preview would have whetted the appetite for the very aspect that won Rachel Harrington many fans overseas in the first place. Inevitably, this output will be the ultimate judge of how successful the return is rather than the covers. Fingers crossed that 2019 will be the year when Rachel Harrington – the songwriter completes the rehab and new material to match her esteemed past surfaces. 

Monday, 29 October 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Carson McHone - Carousel : Nine Mile Records (Out on 26th October 2018)

The continual search for keepers of the country flame from the contemporary pool can pause for a moment to digest the brand new album from Carson McHone. CAROUSEL may have a slightly rehashed slant to it, but if you are new to this Austin Texas native then none of it matters. The eleven-track album gets its release on Nine Mile Records, a label responsible for artists such as Carrie Rodriguez in the past. One guarantee is that anybody with a faint interest in traditional country music will at least raise an ear to the music of Carson McHone.

Expect plenty of fiddle, steel and lyrics drowning in vocal emotion. In other words, check off the country template credentials and sit down to enjoy how Carson has successfully made a record to get the nod in influential circles.

In essence, the album is ten-strong in terms of songs, the eleventh being a one-minute instrumental intro that effectively launches the second half or reverse side if playing the vinyl version. Four of these songs get a second life after surfacing on the 2015 self-released GOODLUCK MAN, including the title track from that release. Whether or not you are au fait with the previous record, chances are high that CAROUSEL will reflect positively and slide neatly into any available listening space.

Whatever tempo floats your boat; this album serves you well ranging from sad song waltz syndrome attached to ‘Gentle’ to a more foot-tapping rockabilly sound belting out of the pacey effort ‘Good Time Daddy’. Retro is especially king in the fifties style swing number ‘Maybe They’re Really Just Good Friends’, but to balance things and inject a hybrid perspective ‘Drugs’ in the second track position retains a contemporary feel. The latter uses repetition effectively to power home the message and supplies a decent live video to highlight the song.

Background blurb sheds light on ‘Dram Shop Gal’ being autobiographical, and thus maybe a web search for the term as used in Texas if unfamiliar. Note us Anglos may only know the meaning from the Scottish phrase ‘wee dram’. For a slight switch in the sonic landscape, the final track ‘Spider Song’ detours from a country feel to more of a folk sound courtesy of a melodeon/accordion style whirring backdrop.

Elsewhere on a record that eases itself comfortably into repeat play mode, ‘How ‘Bout It’ scores highly in late night piano ballad territory. In contrast, ‘Lucky’ possesses an appealing mid-track tempo switch and if you feel the desire to anoint a stand out song then it acts as a commendable candidate for the crown. Alternatively, you could look no further than the opening number ‘Sad’, one possessing an initial dose of country music staple that goes a long way to defining the album.

CAROUSEL is a useful addition to any serious country music collectors’ catalogue and showing once again, that Texas is often the hotbed for the decent stuff. The name Carson McHone may not be yet well known, but time is still on the side of this twenty something artist and further recordings as good as this one will serve her well.

www.carsonmchonemusic.com

GIG REVIEW: Kacey Musgraves - O2 Academy, Birmingham. Sunday 28th October 2018

There was enough credit in the Kacey Musgraves bank to forgive a slow start to the GOLDEN HOUR era. While others instantly eulogised over the album, the title of the opening track has never been more pertinent when getting to grips with a new record. It was also apt that ‘Slow Burn’ fires the opening salvo on dates during the Oh, What a World Tour, which is currently rolling around venues in the UK. For the latest visit to Birmingham, the entourage headed across town to the Academy and a renewal with fans in a venue steeped in the city’s musical heritage, long before the corporate world stepped in. An element of curiosity will always surround the music of Kacey Musgraves: a maverick, independent or just another act out to fluidly maximise exposure. One constant is always the inspirational depth to her music and an ability to match interesting facets with excellence. For two hours this evening we witnessed an artist perfecting the art of smooth entertainment, capable of engineering the full range of gear changes, while exuding complete control of the proceedings

As expected, the entire complement of new material fluttered around a packed venue leaving just enough room for some classics to mature nicely like that proverbial fine wine. Rumours of the modern classic ‘Merry Go Round’ jettisoned from the set list were far off the mark and it is impossible to tire listening to its cutting lyrics and smart observation. This evening’s rendition slightly slowed down and had a boost from the haunting tones of pedal steel. The instrument famously described by Danny Wilson as ‘the ironing board of love’ played a significant role across the set and securing the services of ace Nashville based player Smokin’ Brett Resnick for the tour was an astute move.

The band, a six-piece operation and a little more conservatively dressed than on previous tours, played the perfect foil to the glitz and sparkle of Kacey. Easing between the more studio-based sounds of GOLDEN HOUR and the roots focus when the country ‘A’ game ascended, they probably had their finest moment when let off the leash for the final throes of ‘Die Fun’.

The country content (yes, there was still plenty to keep Kacey in credit column) increased when the band re-assembled in acoustic mode at the front of the stage to deliver ‘Oh, What a World’, ‘Family is Family’ and the first half of ‘Love is a Wild Thing’. The first of this trio proved interesting as it is one of the more controversial tracks on the new album from a production standpoint, but tonight it had its roots credentials reclaimed. The final song during this segment is the most acclaimed on GOLDEN HOUR, praised by fellow songwriters as a stellar piece of song writing. Kacey introduced it as the moment when finding love was unexpected and used the second half of the song to usher the band back into standard formation.

Joining a raft of tracks already mentioned as key high spots are five more from a set that just about surpassed the hour forty mark. ‘Follow Your Arrow’ is staple Kacey fare and forever cements in the pre-encore singalong slot. ‘Rainbow’ is one of the most beautiful songs she has recorded and its spot opening the encore was perfectly suited with Kacey just accompanied by a band member on piano.

The track rapidly ascending as a favourite on the new album is ‘Happy & Sad’ and the live version provided further confirmation. Whatever thoughts arose concerning the direction of the new album ultimately override by the sheer quality of the songs and it has been an absorbing experience giving the record room to prosper. On the other hand, it is always enjoyable to listen to what Kacey does best, with ‘High Time’ and ‘It Is What It Is’ proving timely reminders.

While not being the most charismatic and emotive performer on stage, there is an endearing charm to Kacey Musgraves. Vocally she is competent enough to hold sway and probably peaked on that front with the added feeling observed to ‘Space Cowboy’. For a round of fun at the end, she was joined by opening act Sophie from Soccer Mommy to duet on a cover of the NSYNC song ‘Tearin’ Up My Heart’ (research needed to name this track!), and the disco tune ‘High Horse’ either sent some folks home happy or others heading for a swift exit. Take your pick.

It was interesting that Nashville-based indie rock band Soccer Mommy were invited to open on this tour, almost confirming the distant stance being taken from country music. They played a forty-minute opening stint, and paraded as your usual four-piece combo with a lite twangy electric sound. The highlight was a short segment when Sophie played solo for a few tunes, including a different take on Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’.  At this point, there was a touch of Phoebe Bridgers about her. By the way, check Phoebe out if you have not heard her and like a bit of deep feeling indie Americana.

This was the fourth time seeing Kacey Musgraves live and probably the best yet. The performance housed an artist in control and one who works within the limit of their strengths. These obviously lie in the stunning songs that she brings to the table and the affable way they present, along with the top musicians she works with. Horizons are expansive for this native of Golden Texas and who knows where Kacey Musgraves will drift next. One suspects a tenuous tether to country music will always exist and it will be of no surprise if her career evolves into one of influence. This performance upon a return to the only Birmingham that really counts was absolutely adorable and a major advert for the magnetic attraction of top quality live music from an artist who clearly matters. 

www.kaceymusgraves.com