Thursday, 27 July 2017

Jo Harman + Lisa Mills - SummerTyne Americana Festival, Sage 2, Gateshead. Sunday 223rd July 2017

While the general SummerTyne main evening choice is between two ticketed shows, the afternoon offering pits a paid event in Sage 2 against the free outdoors and concourse stages. This year the festival organisers decided to wholly make these afternoon events the domain of the female artist with a double bill of Jo Harman and Lisa Mills following up a previous day scheduling of Angaleena Presley and Danni Nicholls. Whereas the Saturday show leaned heavily in a country direction, the corresponding Sunday event brought a slice of the blues with two powerhouse vocalists.

It is always a welcoming touch when artists are matched with a plethora of contrasts and comparisons that make the art of complementation work well. Both Lisa Mills and Jo Harman draw on the magnitude of their vocal strength to form their work. For this twin show, Jo was afforded the slightly longer set, but both performances gave fascinating insights in how the voice can be utilised so well.

Ultimately, it is probably the duality of their styles and backgrounds, which formed the lasting memory of the show. First up are their national roots, with Lisa being a proud southern girl who was raised in Mississippi and now lives in Mobile Alabama. Although you generally find her touring the UK during the summer months, probably a wise climatic choice. Lisa played her music solo with just the simple help of a single guitar, while mining deep into the barrels of her soul to extract earthy vocal ammunition. There was an incredible amount of warmth and humility in her stage presence alongside a desire to connect with the audience. The background stories to the origin of her material were often heartfelt, whether sourcing material close to her family or borrowing the work of the greats such as Etta James.

Jo Harman hails from southern England and came across as a more refined vocalist. For this show, she was appearing in a trio format. We did learn that this was a rare stripped down outfit and one that the band were still trying to adjust to. Grand piano and gentle electric guitar were the chosen instrumental accompaniments to Jo’s voice, which possessed all the hallmarks of a trained attribute benefitting from as much nurture as nature. It was compelling to watch such an accomplished vocalist effortlessly work the mic. The musical is equally at home in a late night blues setting as well as a semi-jazz or theatre environment. 

Whereas Lisa did race out the blocks with instant appeal, Jo appeared to tread more carefully in her set. It could be construed as a slow burner, which really ignited in the stunning finale. ‘When We Were Young’ and ‘Sweet Man Moses’ were the responsible numbers for the afternoon ending on a serious high. The latter saw Jo infect her voice with acres of heartfelt sentiment and blast off any covers of pretence. This was the vision of Jo Harman to take home with and preserve for future acquaintance.

If the widely defined genre of Americana music needed further proof of an acceptable eclectic existence, then Lisa Mills and Jo Harman provided that. Maybe Lisa’s style is probably an overall better fit for the genre, but Jo too played her part in the success of this presentation.

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