Saturday, 16 September 2017

Dylan LeBlanc + Aubrie Sellers - The Lantern, Bristol. Friday 15th September 2017

The first ‘cautionary tale’ was not to expect the similar chilled out mellow vibes from the latest Dylan LeBlanc album of the same name. The second was to inject a degree of ear-adjusted patience before waiting for this gig to ignite. Once these parameters were applied, the true worth of this enigmatic artist surfaced. On a night where both the headliner and invited support act Aubrie Sellers had to compete with the sonic deviances of a vacuous venue, you had to dig a little deeper to discover the true worth of two artists blessed with innate musical qualities.

If a little push was needed to venture down the M5 to Bristol on a Friday evening to see Dylan Le Blanc, the late addition of Aubrie Sellers to open his UK shows sealed the decision. Apologies for any misguided sentiment in suggesting via the title of this review that the show was a co-bill. The excitement of catching Aubrie on one of her first appearances this side of the pond had been buoyed by last year’s release of NEW CITY BLUES securing a place in that ‘sacred’ December album list. Maybe this introduction was a touch low key, comprising of seven tracks in a set falling short of the half hour mark, but there was sufficient evidence to suggest the talent genes were in good working order.

Appearing in a trio format led by Nashville guitarist Ethan Ballinger, Aubrie wasted little time in reeling off half a dozen tracks from her debut album. In addition there was a cover of Gram Parsons’ ‘Luxury Liner’ all in a distinct style labelled with a degree of credibility as ‘Garage Country’. Now from a personal perspective, if you’re going to crossover, three chord thrash is a better territory than high production pop; it has far more synergy with the roots of traditional country music. The trio nailed this totally in their limited time in the spotlight, even when it became evident from the opening bars that the sound level from the guitar and drums was going to drown out the vocals. To Aubrie’s credit she eventually won the battle and was probably hitting her peak when the final track ‘Just to be With You’ was dealt. Throughout the set, a classy vocal style was evident thus confirming there were more than the striking features of her mother Lee Ann Womack being passed down.

On the surface, Aubrie Sellers is making an independent stance with her music. The album bubbled under the radar until getting a label release and her style in its present form wanders away from the mainstream. There was no disputing the raw energy that radiated from her stage presence and this coupled with the quality of the recorded material suggests a talent that will continue to prosper. 

Sadly, The Lantern in its seated format, was not the ideal venue for a turnout around the fifty mark. There was also a combination of factors that led to the first half hour of Dylan LeBlanc’s set missing the mark. First up, this was loud. Probably not by some standards, but definitely by the benchmark of similar Americana touring acts. Secondly, Dylan’s vocal style is a somewhat acquired taste that worked especially well on the latest album, but can strain opinion when in harness with a six-piece full-on rock band. From a personal perspective, it floated out the microphone and ended up half way down the Bristol Channel at times rather than on the intended listener.

Yet midway through the set, something clicked into place. It was during an extended instrumental piece, quoted as very much in the vein of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, that everything in the band came together. Incidentally, they are actually Nashville/Muscle Shoals based four-piece outfit The Pollies, joined for this tour by Courtney Blackwell on cello. Perhaps it helped that the two standout songs came in this section – ‘Easy Way Out’ and ‘Cautionary Tale’ – plus a new song introduced as a take on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which sounded pretty good. Also in this section, the sound seemed to find its optimum channel, although this could have been down to some individual ear adjustment within the listener. However, there was always the tendency for the keys to be drowned out, which is a pity as they are often an integral part of a Muscle Shoals band. On the positive side, the dulcet sombre tones of the cello worked well, probably operating as a tempering influence.

By the time Dylan closed the show with a couple of tracks featuring just acoustic guitar and cello, the appreciative humility shone through and the evening as a whole resided comfortably in the credit column. Without a shadow of doubt, Dylan LeBlanc is a highly talented musician, an effective bandleader and successful in channelling a few idiosyncratic tendencies into a rich sound. There is a versatility in marrying the vibes of the studio album with those displayed in Bristol this evening. Essentially, he is the ‘carved in stone’ Americana artist, for those who view the genre as a refuge for homeless rock acts. All the components evident on stage tonight support this train of thought.

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