Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Emily Baker - Tower of Song, Cotteridge, Birmingham Sunday 21st April 2013

Emily and Fiddes in full flow

2013 is shaping up to be an exceptional year for outstanding female singer-songwriter output. Across the pond Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe are raising the bar in Music City while closer to home an album emerged earlier this year that was a blueprint to how a transatlantic record should be made. The review on this site referred to Emily Baker’s ALL AT SEA as a ‘brief glimpse of acoustic heaven’ and it is with great delight that an opportunity was grasped to hear a near-full live rendition of this fine album.

The Lazy Sunday Songwriter’s Sessions is a new venture by Birmingham based American artist Lobelia Lawson to showcase acoustic original talent in the intimate Tower of Song venue located in a south west Birmingham suburb. There was no finer guest to launch this series than for Lobelia and husband Steve to invite their colleague Emily Baker up from Brighton with her regular musical collaborator Fiddes Smith. Over the duration of this special evening filled with warmth, the healthily sized audience was treated to a short set by the host, an extended opportunity to listen to Emily and an impromptu jam to lead the evening towards its successful conclusion.

Lobelia has been making beautiful music for a number of years both in the UK, her native US, as well as time spent in Canada. Her latest release titled BEAUTIFULLY UNDONE (SONGS I WISH I HAD WRITTEN) is a covers album with a difference as just as the brackets suggest, this is a very personal album mixing some songs you’ll know and others you won’t. The title track was probably the highlight of her short set and was introduced as a song written by a Canadian singer-songwriter Lindy. While Lobelia primarily supports her crystal vocals with an acoustic guitar she is not afraid to experiment with various backing sounds and was also accompanied on one number by husband and bassist Steve.

Having only recently discovered the work of Emily Baker and thus delving into her back catalogue (well 2011’s HOUSE OF CARDS) it has been interesting to note how she has taken a more roots inspired path with the new album. During her set Emily made frequent references to the making of the album with producer Gavin Monaghan whose diverse work has included the folk sound of Scott Matthews and the rousing upbeat anthems of the Editors. However with Fiddes now in collaboration, his marvellous skills on acoustic, mandolin and banjo are the perfect foil for the heartfelt delivery of this new set of songs from Emily’s deep creative well.

Inspirational company! 
Right from the off, Emily stamped her own mark on the evening with a right mix of entertaining and informative chat that unlocked the door to enlighten people on the profound depth of these songs. By the end of the third song we had learned how listening to Joni Mitchell had played a part in the writing of ‘Run’, that the sense of longing inspired the fabulous ‘Tennessee’ and how ‘Warm Hands, Cold Heart’ proved the metaphor for things not quite seeming as they are. As an audience we were invited to make our own minds up to the meaning of ‘Northern Lights’ while a fond recollection accompanied the intro to ‘Best Laid Plans’, the first song she had played with Fiddes.

The roots influenced sound was very much in evidence via the tender mandolin contribution of Fiddes and this was ramped up when he switched to some delightful banjo for the playing of the more upbeat ‘Fire’. The experiences of travelling the US seem to have inspired Emily with a constant Americana thread weaving its way through the album and prior to her delivering the country influenced ‘Out of Time’ , she recounted a memorable tale when visiting Austin, Texas. The story of the infamous chicken ‘shit’ bingo in Ginny’s juke joint which accompanies Dale Watson’s regular slot there is legendary but tonight we found out that Emily was a lucky winner on her visit to this iconic venue.

Just before the final couple of songs of the evening, there was a brief interlude of some retro eighties pop - acoustic style. First Lobelia joined Emily on stage to lead the vocals on an ultra slo-mo version of ‘You Spin Me Round’, before Emily responded with a sing along rendition of Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’. Lobelia’s version of the Dead or Alive classic is also found on her covers album. The appreciative crowd was not going to let Emily slope off to the bar that easily and she duly fulfilled a request to play an ‘Emily Baker oldie’ ‘House of Cards’ before inviting Fiddes back to provide the percussion for the show closing and infectious number ‘Cold Turkey’.

So in the end we were only ‘Coast is Clear’ from listening to the full album live but it’s wise to leave a little room for improvement. Although with such a high quality and entertaining performance of an outstanding album in an ideal intimate setting, it would have to be a supreme effort to exceed tonight’s offering. While UK fans of Kacey and Ashley quite rightly revel in their latest releases, they may well want to take a look at what is happening on our shores and check out the work of Emily Baker. 






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