Friday, 14 October 2016

My Darling Clementine - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Thursday 13th October 2016

Three years ago the same seven piece line-up graced the stage at the Hare and Hounds, Birmingham to herald the launch of the second My Darling Clementine album. That evening proved a resounding success and a repeat was always on the cards at this re-convening to effectively launch the next phase of the project. Maybe project is a word that should be confined to history as Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish have cultivated a distinguished niche in the My Darling Clementine duo format which is now set to branch out from its classic country revue style. While the song from their back catalogue ‘Our Race Is Run’ stood out on the evening, the sentiment of the saying is far from reality for My Darling Clementine and the plenty they still have to offer.

With the new songs in the bank, the next hurdle is to get them out in the available recording world and when accessible, the reception is sure to be positive. Michael and Lou previewed over half a dozen of them across the two hours on stage in a show that was hailed ‘a homecoming’, although Michael reminded folks of his non-Birmingham roots. It had been indicated that the style would see a movement away from the traditional country sound in a more soulful direction. The extent of this will be increasingly evident when the horns are added, both on record and when opportunity presents a full live rendition. One constant between the old and new My Darling Clementine is a retro feel to the sound, and while country elements could still be detected, the overall feel was akin to classic sixties soul and pop. However great songs transcend genres and the initial impact of first hearing these shed any remnants of disappointment. Expect more on this in the run up to the release, but look out for a great personal piece courtesy of Lou’s American experience from a West Coast road trip, a dark twist to ‘Tear Stained Smile’ and some stark references to the petroleum industry.

While the bridging analogy to this gig has been implied, the songs and tunes from the two My Darling Clementine albums to date still sound as fresh as their first airing and will always remain core to how Michael and Lou formalised their performing arrangement. 2011’s HOW DO YOU PLEAD will live long in my interpretation of a strong concept album that could easily evolve into another art form. This has happened to a degree with their work with crime writer Mark Billingham on The Other Half project. This was effectively weaving the songs into a story courtesy of a Memphis background, but adrift to what could have been done with the marital disintegration laid out in the first album. It’s all about the rich tapestry of subjective artistic interpretation I suppose.

Lou and Michael at Cambridge in 2014 
Anyhow back to the gig and from the first album ‘Going Back to Memphis’ and ‘Departure Lounge’ formed part of a seamless opening segment. In contrast ‘Goodbye Week’ and the ‘hit’ ‘100,000 Words’ were essential components of a rousing finale, and thus letting a fine band loose from a tight leash. Also from that album, ‘Put Your Hair Back’ acted as one of the show’s stripped back moments when the contrasting heights of the duo’s individual vocal styles can shine. This segment saw a couple of covers giving the MDC originals a breather with Lou returning to deliver her piano-led version of ‘Good Year For The Roses’ and Michael celebrating the legacy of Hank with ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’.

A strong candidate for the golden moment of My Darling Clementine’s time in the spotlight is their ‘Stand by your Man’ response, and ‘No Matter What Tammy Said’ has just had the honour of being in Country Music People magazine ’50 Best Country Songs of the last 30 Years’. While I have issues with the word ‘best’ being bounded around, the song has always been a winner with me. This was lifted from THE RECONCILIATION album as was set entrants – ‘No Heart in this Heartache’, ‘King of the Carnaval’, the previously mentioned ‘Our Race is Run’ and the Ronnie Self song ‘I Can’t Live With You’. The latter won my award as the song which raised its head most above the album version.

Apart from the song excellence, other factors making this a gig to remember included the now infamous dry, cutting banter between the pair, executed by the sharp wit of Lou and the high degree of competence exuding from the five assembled players. From left to right in stage position, and remaining in place from 2013, were Liam Grundy (keys/organ), Martin Belmont (lead guitar), Neil Bullock (drums), Kevin Foster (bass guitar) and Alan Cook (pedal steel/mandolin/Dobro). Hats off guys you did a grand job.

So the gun has been fired to ignite the next phase of My Darling Clementine. They are a core duo/occasional enhanced band who make very good accessible music that succeeds with fusing the wire between artist and audience. The spirit of 2013 was re-visited, with Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish demonstrating a talent to share music that matters to them with like minded folks.

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