Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Carly Dow + MC Hansen - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Monday 16th January 2017

Two Canadians, two Danes and two hours of engaging international folk music; what more do you need to get you out of your living room on a wet January Monday night. For those of us who did, it is to the credit of MC Hansen and Carly Dow for sharing the produce of their fertile craft in such a supreme manner. The live music at Birmingham’s premier listening venue wasted little time in getting under way in 2017 with a New Year’s Day show and just two weeks into the year we have had a glimpse at the impressive quality of touring acts likely to pass through the doors over the next twelve months. This presentation was part of a number of dates that Carly is sharing with MC Hansen on her inaugural European tour and the format of the evening rolled out as a split bill co-headline show.

Carly, who was accompanied by her touring partner Logan McKillop, first crossed my path twelve months ago when her debut album release had the fortunate boost of being successfully promoted in Europe. Her style resembled the current crop of contemporary Canadian folk artists, mining the vast expanses of her home environment armed with an acoustic toolkit and a headful of tuneful ideas. Like the majority of touring acts in a similar style, the opportunity to furnish their songs with the charm of the alluring background song story was relished by Carly and it was a blessing to have your imagination fuelled by enhanced content.

So over the course of the near hour Carly spent in the spotlight, our minds were taken from rural Manitoba further north up to the Yukon territory, while taking in local rivers, scenery, unimaginable low temperatures and the exploits of the local wildlife. All this primarily revolved around tracks from the album in question INGRAINED, plus a new song and an established cover thrown in for good measure. To soundtrack these beautiful songs, Carly alternated between guitar and banjo, with several interjected interludes by sidekick guitarist Logan adding both a perfect finesse and foil to the instrumental proceedings.

From the album, ‘Too Much To Go Back’ bristled with the splendour of its recorded existence, while ‘Not a Songbird’ rose to prominence on the back of a heart-warming story and a beautiful rendition. The cover of Gillian Welch’s standard murder ballad ‘Caleb Meyer’ crowned a superb set with the deal that began with the discovery Carly’s music a year ago now sealed and delivered.

While Carly’s mainland Europe and Scottish dates are solely with Logan, the England shows have seen a tie up with Danish folk singer MC Hansen who tours with his harmonium playing musical partner Jacob Chano. The playing of this unusual instrument, although frequently seen on the folk circuit, adds a regal organ-like deep sound to the atmosphere of the songs. MC possesses an extremely affable vocal style which occasionally slows to a talking pace at opportune moments. Harmony vocals are another feature of MC and Jacob’s stage persona, alongside a major gift to the audience in the warm affinity appeal of the stories forming the entertaining songs that surface.

An unlikely link between the influences of Carly and MC emerged when the latter introduced his latest record, heavily inspired by extensive travel which reached the remote Canadian wastelands of the Yukon territory. These travels further ventured around North America with the state of Ohio proving a popular location for stories. Inevitably the tales reached the homeland of MC and this was reflected in the album’s title FROM WHITEHORSE TO THE CROW’S NEST, the latter being a place not too far from his Copenhagen home. As the songs and stories flowed, the empathy between audience and artist grew which culminated in an emotive finale when MC invited back Carly and Logan to the ‘stage’ to deliver an off-mic gospel piece. Venues like the Kitchen Garden CafĂ© are heaven sent for this type of delivery especially when the curation is impromptu and proves a fitting climax.

All four artists played a significant role in making this show a worthwhile investment, not only in modest financial terms but a desire not to let slumber win and bravely support live music at its grass roots. It was a pleasure to catch up with Carly Dow after enjoying her music from a distance and hopefully the development as an overseas touring artist will blossom alongside her mantle on the Canadian circuit. For MC Hansen the association is a little closer to home and a timely reminder to how the power of music can unite a continent in uncertain times. 


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