The term crossover can have a multitude of musical connotations, but when the two styles are folk and Americana the results are often quite positive especially when quality artists are at the helm of the execution. Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin have their roots firmly planted in the UK folk scene and possess a talent recognised by numerous national and regional awarding bodies, most notably BBC Radio 2. Their live shows never fail to impress and always unveil a heady mixture of pulsating musicianship and beautiful delicate song. This third appearance at the Kitchen Garden Café was business as usual for the duo who breezed their way through a pair of alluring sets.
Whether on Dobro, harmonica, stomp box or beat box, Phillip is an intriguing and original musician capable of holding the audience’s attention for lengthy periods. He orchestrates the harmonica with extraordinary effect leaving many in awe. The solo performance of ‘Underground Railroad’ is Phillip’s ace in the pack and goes a long way to justify the price of the admission alone. This ode to the blues strongly tilts the duo towards an Americana sound which is further enhanced by Phillip’s Dobro playing and several choices of covers. This particular show delivered a tribute to two female icons of American roots music in excellent versions of Gillian Welch’s ‘Wichita’ and Alison Krauss’s ‘The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn’.
With her songbird vocals and adept violin and banjo playing, Hannah cuts the poise of a quintessential English folk songstress to add contrasting shades to the duo’s façade. Though diverse in their schemes, the chemistry of combo carefully settles blends and ultimately flourishes. The role of prominent vocalist and engaging communicator suits the warm persona of Hannah and she excels on the familiar favourite ‘Silbury Hill’ as well as on some newer material which augurs well for the duo’s upcoming new release. ‘Tonight’ and ‘Taxi’ were two of the fresh songs previewed and the signs are positive that the new record will match the success of the latest release MYND.
In the week of a disappointing election result, it is vitally important to gather a sense of resolve from the power of a protest song. ‘The Nailmakers’ Strike’ is a staple of any Henry and Martin performance and takes on a particularly local feel when played in the West Midlands. The story of a march between Bromsgrove and Halesowen in the 19th century has a timeless and powerful message which is emphatically and vociferously sung in the chorus of this song. This Midlands audience certainly didn’t let Phillip and Hannah down in the collaborative stakes.
Tales of the duo’s worldwide travels, which in 2015 has included flying visits to Japan and America, filtered into the show and each time seen live, you get to know a little more about Phillip and Hannah. By the time a version of ‘You Can Close Your Eyes’ by James Taylor ended the show, an enjoyable evening of splendid and informative entertainment had once again been presented by Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. Without doubt this duo are well set for a long, successful and influential career, so here’s to more fine material, ingenious musicianship and the odd protest song to fuel the passion of hope.