Thursday, 27 July 2017

Sam Outlaw Band + Jim Lauderdale - SummerTyne Americana Festival, Sage 2, Gateshead. Saturday 22nd July 2017

The match up on Saturday night of SummerTyne was predominately classic soul versus classic country. While Stax legend William Bell rolled back the years with a reported stunning show in the larger hall of Sage 1, the main alternative paired the old and the new in Jim Lauderdale and Sam Outlaw. The contrasts didn’t end at the positions on the career longevity ladder as Jim opted for the solo performance while Sam went down the band route. This probably led to the latter grabbing the headline slot in what was essentially a double bill. Offered a similar amount of time, both artists gave a snapshot performance of where their careers currently stand with many positives being extracted from each hour of music.

Jim Lauderdale is going through an Anglicised phase in his career. Not only is there a big clue in the title of the new album LONDON SOUTHERN, but the record was also made over here with significant help from Nick Lowe’s band. A fleeting visit earlier in the New Year saw him pop up on the Transatlantic Sessions line up and now a more extensive summer run of solo dates is further cementing an Americana music legend in the hearts of a UK audience. 'Statesman' accurately sums up the persona of Jim Lauderdale alongside a willingness to adopt the role of student/teacher when it comes to American roots music.

On one hand, you feel that Jim never stops learning and evolving. However, there is also the side to him that willingly imparts his enormous experience and knowledge on the upcoming generation. During this affable hour in the company of Jim Lauderdale, we learned of his inspiration from George Jones/Gram Parsons, perfectly summed up in the song ‘King of Broken Hearts’. Further namedropping included his work with Elvis Costello via the song ‘I Lost You’, his bluegrass appreciation via a nod to Ralph Stanley and the co-write with Buddy Miller, which led to ‘Hole in My Head’ finding fame when cut by the Dixie Chicks on their second album.

In a totally accomplished set, which both included the audience and held their devout attention for its entirety, a popular version of ‘Headed for the Hills’, co-written with the Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter, proved the standout moment. At the conclusion of his set, it was appropriate for Jim to hand over the baton to the next generation, although there was one little surprise left later in the evening.

Before Sage 2 was cleared for an impromptu Songwriters in the Round session led by Jim Lauderdale, there was the little matter of Sam Outlaw rocking it out in full band glory. This rolled out to be an intriguing hour of straight up high octane country music helping to put some more meat on the style of an artist growing in popularity.

Sam Outlaw has forged an impressive path in independent country music over the last couple of years. Debut album ANGELENO exploded out of the blocks at the start of last year and hung around for inclusion on the end of year lists. The latest release TENDERHEART has taken a little more time to eventually reach the vicinity of its sister record, give or take a couple of outstanding tracks making an instant impression. On the live front, Sam’s initial appearance over here with Danny Garcia on accompanying guitar proved an eye catching experience. A couple of further UK tours followed with Sam expanding his show to a band format especially required for summer festival shows. 

The enhanced 2017 touring set up saw Molly Jenson play on all shows and a pedal steel guitarist added. Despite a muffled start to the set, the loud sound did settle down and it was pleasing to see this Sam Outlaw band performance move significantly in the right direction. A wise decision to just crack on with the music led to a populous offering of songs from both albums. It’s still the ones from ANGELENO which hold the biggest sway with set highlights being ‘Trouble’, ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘Country Love Song’. The latter was inevitably sung as a duet with Molly, as the band took a brief breather. Also joining the band for this tour is up and coming Nashville based country singer-songwriter Michaela Anne and a sample of her work (‘Luisa’) was handed over to Sam and the others to work wonders with. She is also playing a short opening set on a majority of dates on this extensive summer tour, alas there was no fitting into the tight SummerTyne schedule.

A final thought on this show had to end with the outstanding piece ‘All of My Life’, which still reigns supreme at the top of the personal favourite songs of the year list at the midway point. The full band live version was top notch and topped a performance that sent out a signal that Sam Outlaw remains an important artist in preserving a style of country music often under attack in corporate circles. 

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