Monday, 9 November 2015

Callaghan - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Sunday 8th November 2015

‘Musique sans genre’ perfectly sums up the artist simply known as Callaghan. ‘Sans frontier’ is another language analogy to apply as this exiled Brit is beginning to reap dividend from her American re-location five years ago and subsequent onward move to Nashville. My early re-collection of Callaghan the solo musician was around six or seven years ago during a new artist showcase when the Americana International Festival was held in Newark, UK. Several years on, she emerged a smooth and polished figure on stage in Birmingham, exuding a magnetic presence and one totally comfortable in her musical surroundings. This is a performer blessed with the art of song and extensively schooled in the live arena, be it venue or home, with a heavy bias to her extensive house concert schedule.

Callaghan herself hinted during the evening on several occasions how the twin continent drive of her career is rapidly taking shape. An increased level of acclaim back in her UK homeland is proving a continual touring pull with several working trips this year and more in the pipeline for 2016. This show at the Hare and Hounds, Birmingham was a second visit to the city this year and acted as the final gig of the current tour. Callaghan and her keyboard playing sidekick: Dan, were determined to have a blast and they rattled through a set around an hour and a quarter long with a sentimental twist at the end. Not surprisingly, material from the latest record A HISTORY OF NOW took precedence and reminded folks of its unrelenting appeal, which extended to selective national airplay.

What was apparent from witnessing Callaghan during the show was the impact upon her from mixing with the Nashville singer-songwriter crowd and there’s no finer place than Music City to hone your craft. From a personal viewpoint, Callaghan excels best when sinking into her wonderful ballads aided only by piano, succulent vocals and a heart spilling out a story. This was made clear in a recent review of her album and sealed tonight with sumptuous renditions of ‘I’ll Take You Away’, ‘When You Loved Me’ and ‘Who Would I Be’. The centre of this trio was introduced with the most heart rendering story you could wish to hear and Callaghan was highly skilled in the art of stage banter throughout the show.

Of course it is permissible for songwriters to indulge in the work of others during their shows and curiously three of Callaghan’s covers added an extra edge to the gig. As much as I love Johnny Cash and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’,  it is becoming a little staid as the go to ‘Man in Black’ cover when he has written hundreds of brilliant others. With the help of some of Dan’s incredibly soulful keys, Callaghan poured everything into ‘Piece of My Heart’ and suggested at the end that perhaps her glass of water should be something a little stronger. Therein lays a secret wish for Callaghan to push the boundaries a little with her song delivery as this would increase the soulful impact of her powerful writing. A further eye opener was the impromptu second encore and a slight melody re-arrangement of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ which met with universal and in some cases tearful, approval.

Best Year’ and ‘Crazy Beautiful Life’ were greeted enthusiastically by an increasingly appreciative and responsive audience. Whilst the pop pretensions of the recorded versions were almost swept away on stage, these songs still fall short in my book when matched up against the gorgeous ballads which melt you away. There exists the conundrum for me as a willing listener, bowled over by the assured performer, but mindful of the actual artist’s preference and desires of a growing fan base.

Support for this evening, and several other dates on the tour, was provided by UK singer-song writing duo Rosalie Deighton and Steve Balsamo. Under the combined surname banner Balsamo Deighton, the duo is due to release their debut album in this format early next year. Among the songs assigned to their thirty minute opening slot were several from this upcoming release including ‘Blue’, ‘These Four Walls’ and the title track ‘Unfolding’. Awash with biting satire, a delectable dry wit and unassuming stage style, the duo waded through a mire of sad songs with mortal intent. A few killings would have planted it in the realms of folk, with the slightly lighter vocal tinge heading the sound in an Americana direction, either way the performance was spot on and the album is eagerly awaited.

The upshot of this fabulously entertaining and heart-warming evening was once again experiencing Callaghan live and being enormously impressed with a vast array of her body of work. If the cliché ‘genre defying’ needs personifying, a willing suiter exists. Although let’s discard the typecast word for a moment and celebrate an artist crafted in the majesty of fine song that is destined to deliver on an ongoing basis, both live and on record across two continents.

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