Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Secret Sisters Birmingham Glee Club Sunday 29 January 2012

It doesn’t take long at a Secret Sisters’ gig to know where they reside within the 21st Century country music movement and it’s definitely not in the Nashville Music Row community that generates much of the current country radio output. No sooner had main vocalist Lauren Rogers totally dismissed the beer and beach songs, surely a subtle dig at Kenny Chesney, the Sisters were launching themselves into a cover of George Jones’s 1950’s number, ‘Why Baby Why’. However the irony of the situation is that the Sisters are enjoying a meteoric rise via considerable industry backing that has seen them tour extensively across the world and rub shoulders alongside such luminaries as Paul Simon, Willie Nelson and Ray Lamontagne . Yet the Sisters are comfortable with their remit to recreate the traditional sound of their Alabama upbringing by re-interpreting old country and folk songs as well as developing their own song writing skills.

The Glee Club in Birmingham caters more for the singer-songwriter genre rather than that of country music but a near capacity audience on this final Sunday night of January enthusiastically received and totally immersed themselves into the incredible harmonies of the siblings aided by the accompaniment of just a single acoustic guitar. This was partly due to being a third visit to the city and a return to the same venue within a year but it showed signs of a loyal following being developed.

The Secret Sisters’ set was conveniently packaged within three defined categories. They announced early into the show that this would be the final time they are touring to promote their self-titled debut album and by only including four songs on the night are beginning the process of moving on. With a view to the future, the set included five new songs which are being lined up to be the backbone of their upcoming sophomore album. These included the Alabama tornado inspired ‘Tomorrow Will Be Kinder’, the spiritually influenced ‘River Jordan’ and an attempt to write a home state anthem with ‘King Cotton’. All these songs signalled a shift away from covering old time country songs but still retained a traditional feel. However a Secret Sisters’ show will always be sprinkled with their interpretations of timeless songs and this time the work of Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Willie Nelson, amongst others, were incorporated and celebrated in the set.

The onstage banter between the extrovert Lauren and the slightly more serious figure of Lydia displayed a growing confidence in the art of entertaining an audience but in the end it’s the fabulous harmonies, incredible timing and ability to recreate a sound, where music seemed less complex and more authentic, that truly captivated those privileged to be present. This was beautifully portrayed in the final song of the evening; the acapello delivered ‘Tonight You Belong To Me’.

The girls vowed to return later in the year following the release of their second album and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were joined again by the evening’s support act, the Canadian singer songwriter Lucette, who is also a find of Sisters’ producer, Dave Cobb.

Country music has a long history of harmonic siblings producing some very fine music and the Secret Sisters are a duo that looks set to carry this on in the 21st Century.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Ruth Moody – Bridge House Theatre, Warwick Friday 13 January 2012

I suppose it was apt for a singer-songwriter from Winnipeg, Canada to open their UK tour on the coldest evening so far of this mild British winter. However Ruth Moody, who uses the long Canadian winters to inspire aspects of her writing, wasted no time in warming the musical hearts of those who came to her first solo UK show at the Bridge House Theatre in Warwick. Although not strictly a solo show as she was ably accompanied by band members - Adam Dobres, Adrian Dolan and Sam Howard, Ruth was taking the advantage of a Wailin' Jennys hiatus to promote her solo material and showcase her own voice rather than the unison harmonies that have been such a trademark of the Jennys' success over the last ten years.

Primarily Ruth was touring to re-launch her 2010 album 'The Garden' which to date has had little promotion in the UK but she chose a Wailin’ Jennys song to open the show,’Asleep At Last’ from their 2011 album 'Bright Morning Stars’. However most of the first half of the evening was dedicated to tracks from ‘The Garden’ album including the two winter themed songs that were really relevant tonight.‘Cold Outside’ is one of the stand out tracks from the album and ‘Winter Waltz’ was accompanied by a graphic description of the Manitoba cold season.

Ruth also used the first half of the show to pay tribute to some of her favourite singer-songwriters by playing the Townes Van Zandt inspired ‘Travellin’ Shoes’ – recorded on ‘The Garden’ album, ‘Waltzing for Dreamers’ by Richard Thompson and Julie Miller’s 'By The Way of Sorrow’. As the show approached its break, Ruth and the band were eventually getting into their rhythm. Not surprising as they were only just shaking off the effects of jet lag.

The second half of the show was a much more diverse affair as the crowd were treated to a sublime performance of roots music. Ruth displayed her many musical talents when using piano accompaniment for the sombre‘Never Said Goodbye’ and relayed tales of a singer-song writer’s life before serving up ‘Heaven When You’re Home’ from the Wailin' Jennys 2004 album '40 Days’. To add to the variety of the show, Ruth stepped aside to allow Adam Dobres and Adrian Dolan display their immense musical talent with a couple of self penned and traditional jigs and reels. Dobres demonstrated his expertise on mandolin, fiddle and accordion while Dolan provided some finger pickin’ twang on slide guitar

The audience were taken on a musical road trip down south to Lafayette, Louisiana when Ruth, accompanied by two members of the crowd, superbly delivered her sing along Cajun inspired tune ‘Mermaid Lounge’. The final song before the encore saw Ruth delve into the traditional English songbook and display her classical vocal ability with a rendition of ‘Bold Riley’. Of course the crowd were treated to one more song and this time, bassist Sam Howard came to the fore and sang the duet song ‘We Can Only Listen’ with Ruth, another standout track from ‘The Garden’ album.

So an excellent start to the gigs of 2012 and we can also look forward to Ruth returning the Midlands in the final part of her UK tour when she takes her rightful place in the talented cast of the Transatlantic Sessions.