Saturday, 21 April 2012

Amanda Shires The Musician Leicester Thursday 19th April 2012

By its nature, roots music is mainly going to appeal to a mature listener who is prepared to move out of the present and delve into a period of time where the influence of today’s technology didn’t exist. This is often reflected in the demographical spread of a majority of the audience who frequent gigs under the country, roots and Americana banner in this country. However it is refreshing that a lot of this music exported from the North American continent is being produced by a younger generation that is critical to it continuing to flourish in the future. Texas born, fiddle playing, vocalist Amanda Shires, who has just reached the ripe old age of thirty, is one such artist who continues to grow her reputation at home and is committed to spreading the word overseas. She has been a frequent visitor to the UK over the last few years including an appearance at the Maverick Festival in 2010 and on this evening was bringing her current eighteen date tour to the Musician Pub in Leicester.

 Amanda’s long time musical companion, singer-songwriter and guitarist Rod Picott, was accompanying her again on this tour with the trio completed by lap steel player, Tim Pertil. As a combination, they produced a tight sound allowing for the graceful interludes of Amanda’s fiddle playing and always complementing her distinctive and, occasionally, quirky vocals. Whilst her singing voice was not the traditional drawl you would expect from somebody raised in Texas, living in Tennessee and being a fine exponent of country music, it had an impressive range and contributed to an impulsive listening experience.

Most of their set was dedicated to the two major studio albums that Amanda has recorded and it was a track from her most recent release ‘Carrying Lightning’ that opened the show in ‘When You Need a Train It Never Comes’. Although this album has been available in the UK for a while, it is only now getting reviews in the industry press. During this evening’s show amongst those tracks from it being showcased was the album opener ‘Swimmer’, the Barbara Keith song ‘Detroit or Buffalo’ and ‘Love Be a Bird’. She didn’t forget her previous album ‘West Cross Timbers’ with impressive performances of ‘Angels and Acrobats’ written by co-performer Rod Picott, ‘Rings and Chains’ and ultimately closed the show with the autobiographical track ‘Mineral Wells’. Prior to that she had increased the tempo of the show by playing an upbeat Texas fiddle tune called ‘Set You House in Order’.

With such a talented sidekick as Rod Picott, Amanda was always going to stand aside and let him entertain the audience with his traditional blue collar singer-songwriter numbers. He initially chose two songs from his recent album titled ‘Welding Burns’ with the title track and one called ‘ Rust Belt Fields’ for his short set and he took centre stage a little later with the song ‘Broke Down’, a popular number covered by his colleague Slaid Cleaves on his many visits to the UK. The contrasting styles of Rod and Amanda blended well to make the evening a memorable one.

It was a pity the concert wasn’t better attended but the Musician probably has a greater popularity with the rockier sounds of the americana movement and even though they attempted to make the venue more intimate with candlelit tables, it still lacked a little atmosphere for this type of show. It was good that the Musician had booked the Worcester based duo, Wooden Horse, to open the show and they showed that good quality country/roots/americana music is being made in the UK as well. This, in combination with the likes of Amanda Shires visiting these shores, bodes well for the future health of this minority music genre in the UK.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart Kitchen Garden Cafe Birmingham Tuesday 17th April 2012

It’s been a long time, fourteen years in fact, since husband and wife duo, Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart quit the pursuit of major label recognition in Nashville. What they have missed out on the trappings of industry fame has surely been compensated by the preservation of their musical integrity and the creation of an act that really knows how to interact with the dedicated followers of americana music. Their continued desire to spend a considerable amount of time on the road currently sees them on an exhausting fifty shows in sixty days tour of the UK and Europe. In line with many of their intimate venue and house concert gigs, their return to the Kitchen Garden Café in the eclectic Birmingham suburb of King’s Heath gave them the opportunity to perform to both old and new fans alike.

The major difference between their 2010 and 2012 visit to the UK is that this time they are promoting a new album. Despite writing and performing many songs over their 20 year musical collaboration career, there hasn’t been the commercial pressure for a constant stream of studio album releases. Therefore the couple were enthusiastic to perform a series of tracks from this new album titled ‘Dedication’ with probably the best one being one of their first few numbers of the evening, a road song called ‘Little Rock’, very much an autobiographical piece of work for this well travelled duo. Another track from the new album, ‘Here comes the Pain’, led to Stacey commenting on the challenges of transferring this piano based song from the studio to a double Gibson guitar live set. Having listened to both versions, they have successfully overcome this challenge.

Probably the best feature of their shows is the opportunity for Mark to demonstrate his highly capable finger picking guitar skills and he ties this is in conveniently with his confessed love of old time music especially the blues. With this old time link, he thoroughly entertained the audience in the first half of the set with his version of the song ‘Midnight Special’ made famous by the American roots/folk legend Leadbelly . In the second set, he displayed his skills with a solo instrumental version of the 1920’s tune ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’. After which Mark stood aside and allowed Stacey to captivate those present with a ‘part sung-part spoken' track from their new album called ‘This Ol’ Flag'.

The evening also contained plenty of popular songs from the duo’s back catalogue including ‘I Don’t Want To Have To Run’ and ‘Are You Ready?’ recorded on their 2005 album ‘S & M Communion Bread’ as well as a requested tune from one of Stacey’s solo released albums titled ‘Dance With Them That Brung Ya’. These along with all the other songs performed on the evening were delivered with infectious enthusiasm to complement the impressive harmonies and expert guitar accompaniment.

The duo don’t reflect much on their association with Stacie’s brother Steve in the 1990’s, where they had stints with his band The Dukes, but Mark did comment towards the end of the show on how they had decided to record his originally penned version of the title track of new album ‘Dedication’ and not the one that had been modified during a collaboration with Steve. This song was the penultimate one of the evening leaving the usual Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart show closer, ‘Up In Annie’s Room’ to bring this enjoyable concert to a conclusion.

For Stacey and Mark, it’s bags packed and onto show number thirteen of the tour while the Kitchen Garden Café music regulars were left to reflect on another privileged show from two top quality US touring artists who are prepared to showcase their talents in a ‘living room like' experience, three thousand miles from their Tennessee home.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Stacie Collins The Musician, Leicester Friday 6th April 2012

If you like your country – loud, rocking and raucous – you need to look no further than the music that is being produced and performed by the Nashville based artist, Stacie Collins. This honky tonk, southern rock influenced musician is starting to build a considerable following this side of the Atlantic as Stacie and her band are beginning to reap the benefits of putting in the hard yards of regular visits to the UK, mainland Europe and Scandinavia. Her current tour, under the ‘very countrified’ banner ‘Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust’, has included a visit to the Musician Pub in Leicester for the third straight year and, on this occasion, the size of the crowd was swelled by a Friday night slot.

As usual, the harmonica playing and vocal skills of Stacie are supported by three musical band members led by husband and bassist, Al Collins who, in his other job, is a member of established country rock stalwarts, Jason and the Scorchers. This tour has seen a change in backing musicians with Jason Graumlich on lead guitar and, sporting a ‘Hank 3’ t-shirt, Brad Cummings on drums but in essence the sound and style of the Stacie Collins Band remains unaltered and reasonably uncomplicated.

Although she released a self produced record over a decade ago, a Stacie Collins show is constructed around the two most recent recordings that have helped grow her audience worldwide along with a few well chosen covers from country rock’s rich past. It was a track from her 2007 album ‘Lucky Spot’ that launched the show with ‘Baby Sister’ although it was a little surprising that Stacie left the title track from that album out of the set especially as she normally introduces it as being written on the basis of a true family story. However the enthusiastic audience were treated to other tracks from this album such as the impressive ‘Ramblin’ , ‘Show Your Mama’ and ‘It Ain’t Love'.

When Stacie appeared at the Musician last year, she was specifically promoting her 2010 release ‘Sometimes Ya Gotta’, now twelve months on, some of these songs have become firm live favourites such as ‘Hey Mister’ , ‘I Won’t Do Ya Like That’ and ‘Tied To You’. She had to apologise for not being able to afford to bring the accordion player to accompany ‘Carry Me Away’ but the song is an excellent one anyway that it still came over well. Stacie also tests her vocal skills to the full when performing the rock ballad ‘It Hurts To Breathe’ and on an evening when she admitted to not feeling 100%, gave an excellent rendition of the song with full appreciative encouragement from husband Al, who also gave her a little reprieve when taking over the vocals on the band’s version of the old Ozark Mountain Devils’ number, ‘If You Wanna Get To Heaven’. As well as paying tribute to a giant from the southern rock movement, the band also celebrated the work of country rock pioneer, Gram Parsons with a cover of his song ‘Ooh Las Vegas’.

With the aid of some unspecified medication and rock ‘n’ roll adrenaline, Stacie managed to get through the show and ended the evening with two familiar numbers that drifted a little from their country sound and more into mainstream rock. First of all it was the Rolling Stones ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ that preceded the encore before the final number being a version of the AC/DC song ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top’. At this point, Al signalled the end of the evening but, at over ninety minutes long, the crowd were treated to a value for money show.

With only a handful of UK gigs on this current European tour, the band are scheduled to return to these shores in July when they have a slot at the Americana International Festival. Hopefully they may even be able to fit in a couple more shows around this appearance.

Local bands, The Midnight Dogs and The Outwoods County Riders, provided the support with two sets that fully complemented the sound of Stacie Collins.