Sunday, 16 October 2016

Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker - Red Lion Folk Club, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Wednesday 12th October 2016

There is both a dividing and unifying side to the aura surrounding pioneering folk duo Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker. A tuned-in mind of synchronised misery is helpful to buy into their ideals of music dealing with one of life’s most profound emotions. However aligning your stars with Josienne’s dry stage persona opens your mind to a mesmerising cavern of alluring sentiment providing a dark wrapping for the intoxicating music that immortalises moments in their musical company. On a more literal level, the intrinsic delicacy of her diverse vocal acumen and the virtuoso optimised guitar playing of Ben closes all doors of artistic detachment.

This evening Josienne and Ben were the weekly guests of the Red Lion Folk Club in Kings Heath Birmingham and were afforded a couple of slots edging into the overall hour and half realm to showcase the depth and psyche to their music. The focal point of their time in the spotlight was the delights unveiled from their upcoming new album OVERNIGHT ahead of its October 14th release day. Maybe the pioneering statement made in the opening sentence is reflected in their link up with the iconic record label Rough Trade for the new record. This led to Josienne mischievously heralding the genre of corduroy punk. On a more serious note, there is enormous exposure potential for the new record and the duo will not disappoint fans old and new who like a touch of depth, class and substantive intelligence to their music.

Dietrich Strause
If the lure of catching Josienne and Ben live was not sufficient enough, they brought along a supporting artist they recently hooked with at the prestigious Folk Alliance gathering in Kansas City earlier this year. Dietrich Strause left observers in little doubt as to his influences, inspiration and style models. This was straight down the middle early sixties American folk revival territory and for a near forty five minute stage time allotted to him you could quite easily be watching a scene from the acclaimed cult film Inside Llewyn Davies. The crux of the observation is that the highly crafted Dietrich did this really well, matching a variety of acoustic guitar pieces with strong vocals delivering the messages of his songs. He is a native of Boston Massachusetts, an area renowned for its thriving folk scene, and the architect of a brand new album HOW CRUEL THAT HUNGER BINDS that gets a formal UK launch in November. In addition to supporting his buddies Josienne and Ben on a number of dates, he has also landed the opening slot for Sarah Jarosz in the UK soon, thus ample opportunities to engage with fans this side of the pond. While boundaries may not be stretched, there is a distinguished assuredness to how Dietrich presents his songs and there is little hesitation in marking him as one to watch.

Ben Walker
While it was previously stated that the music of Josienne and Ben is unifying, there are two distinct strands to her vocal style. Some folk fans will drool over the celestial neo classical moments when you have to reach high to connect, while others are more drawn to the closer terra firma feel that accompanies some of her songs. Repeat listens to the new album does reveal these contrasts and more so live when she wanders into the song sphere of Gillian Welch, Sandy Denny and Nick Drake. Throw in Nina Simone and Elgar moments and echoes of a structured randomness emerge in the mix. One constant though is the acute skilled picking of Ben who succeeds in matching the mood perfectly with his accompaniment for each song. Occasionally a more prolonged instrumental segment emerged and it would be no hardship if future compositions headed more in this direction.

The keys to success for this evening were surrounded around Josienne’s introduction to the new album and its conceptual origin. Subsequent plays have proved compelling and it is sure to be lauded as one of the most significant British folk releases of the year. Maybe in this age of national re-alignment it is more pertinent to hail it as a triumph of English sensibility. Literal words aside, the spiralling deluge of melancholic misery housing an inner beauty best sums up the work of Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker. This show revealed and tantalised so much leaving those of us in tune with this artistic approach delightfully satisfied.

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