Friday, 3 April 2015

Kelley McCrae + Josh Harty - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham Thursday 2nd April 2015

Sometimes from distant expectations bright nuggets emerge. Amongst the continual rise of UK performers seeking the original music dream and the increasing number of touring acts eying the fruits of British expansion, a couple of American  artists unintentionally almost shamefully slipped under the radar. Yet just as their UK tour drew to a close, the names of Josh Harty and Kelley McCrae blossomed with an exceedingly accomplished performance to join the growing ‘hall of fame’ of US indie artists to flourish within the intimate surroundings of the Kitchen Garden Café.

On a packed evening of varied entertainment which pushed the venue’s curfew to the limit, three separate acts took to the stage (or corner of the Café where the mics and plugs are) to deliver contrasting sets bonded by a common theme of Americana influenced music. Joining the US guests for the evening and opening with great gusto was Birmingham singer-songwriter Guy Jones, heavily influenced by the sheer magnitude of American message and road songs. Playing in a trio format helped Guy deliver his songs effectively with more than an ounce of twang and an infusion of harmonies accompanying a series of thoughtful tunes, mainly lifted from his EP LONG WAY HOME. The pick of these was a tricky choice between ‘Washington Line’ and ‘Albany Honey’, both originating from stateside visits. Guy is currently running a Pledge campaign to fund his new album to be recorded in New York later this year. On the evidence of this evening’s brief showcase, the finished product possesses a fair degree of early promise.

While Josh and Kelley had equal billing in the pre-gig blurb, the pair used the twin sets on offer to present a sample of their tunes, split by gender but both interwoven with folk sensibilities focussing on the intricacies of real and true everyday American life. Josh uses the solo mantle to share a bunch of songs mainly centred round his two areas of geographical residence, namely growing up in North Dakota and currently inhabiting the Wisconsin state capital of Madison. Matching his profound vocal style and flexible guitar playing form an integral part of his limelight presence, although the warm and informative inter-song banter adds the vital interactive audience ingredient. A handful of Josh’s releases are available online with the two stand out songs introduced being the deeply personal ‘6th Avenue’ and the passionate ‘Whiskey and Morphine’. Not one to miss out on an opportunity to collaborate, Josh invited Kelley and her husband Matt Castlelein to help out with a couple of numbers with the invitation being reciprocated later for a cover of Ryan Adams’ ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ and an encore version of Dan Bern’s ‘Black Tornado’.

Before heaping further praise on the magnetic appeal of Kelley’s song presentation, an acknowledgement of Matt’s contribution on resonator guitar deservedly needs documenting  as it drove the musical arrangement in a much appreciated twang induced roots direction. Matt is at the absolute core of Kelley’s desire to share her inner thoughts via an artistic medium she is both comfortable with and extremely good at. Over the course of the evening it was impossible not to grow fond of Kelley and believe in her lifelong quest to throw her heart and soul into pursuing the utopia of an idealist singer-songwriter. Whether leaving the inbred musical influences of her Mississippi home to hang out as a hipster of pretence in New York City (she is far too genuine for that label) or giving up the day job for 2 years living out of a VW campervan, her background tales were absorbing especially when introducing the source of the song ‘Johnny Cash’. ‘Stay Close to Me’, ‘Rare Bird’, Alone’ and ‘All the Days’ were all gratifying songs entrancingly sung and frequenting a set which could quite easily have floated into the early hours of the following day’s Good Friday holiday.  

The names of Kelley McCrae and Josh Harty are now no longer a mystery in these quarters and any discerning fan of folk-style Americana music should follow suit. Increased affection for them as artists will surely encourage both to seek some return to the UK in the future and maybe a few more folks in the press and promotion world will make their path more productive.

Guy Jones Pledge Project

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