Saturday, 17 March 2018

GIG REVIEW: Mo Pitney + Ashley Campbell + Ryan Kinder - O2 Institute, Birmingham. Friday 16th March 2018

A new venture for the Country-to-Country operation this year has been to take a few post-festival shows around the regions under the branded ‘roadshow’ motif. Two were located in Birmingham, building upon a recent upsurge of mainstream artists getting booked to play venues across the city. The Friday presentation pitted the contrasting styles of Mo Pitney, Ashley Campbell and Ryan Kinder, who convened in the upper reaches of the O2 Institute. An early start and the fact that this was the only gig going on in a spacious tri-room venue equated to a slightly eerie entrance and departure, but a healthy gathering for the allotted space gave the artists a warm response.

Ryan Kinder opened up well before the city centre rush hour had subsided. Without being too disrespectful to the performer, he is the type of act synonymous with the diluting of the tag ‘country’ and a recruiting agent for Ameripolitan and aspects of Americana. What he produced for half an hour with the help of two backing singers, a bassist and a percussionist on cajon was fairly standard fare, probably more enjoyable with the erasing of any genre thoughts. Nevertheless, this should not matter I hear you say. It does here! Probably the pick of the songs played was ‘Alabama’, the home state of the artist. Hailing from the other Birmingham, probably gave him open license to discuss name pronunciation, even though us gig goers hear it every month.

Having checked him out prior to the show, the set from Ryan Kinder offered no surprises. The two main reasons for attending this gig subsequently lifted the evening more in the realm of ‘three chords and the truth’ and confirmed that C2C can do things right when they put their mind to it.

Ashley Campbell is an artist making a concerted move to inch out of the shadow of her family name. Over the last couple of years, she has visited the UK a number of times and this is starting to reap rewards. The added bonus of this trip is, at last, a record to offer fledgling fans a reminder of their acquaintance. This was the third time seeing Ashley and her two sidekicks, brother, Shannon on guitar and Eli Bishop on fiddle. Without hesitation, she improves each time to the extent where the subsequent move to a full band show should be considered.

The banjo playing of Ashley comes across as perceptibly more effective each time seen. She was at least the equal to her highly talented guitar-playing brother this evening. The tempo, pace and thrust of the trio format is still driven by the exquisite fiddle playing of Eli. The pair even jammed to an Earl Scruggs tune ‘Shuckin’ the Corn’. Who’s going to object to a bit of bluegrass and there was more to come.

The debut album THE LONELY ONE is only a week old, although a few of the songs are already familiar pieces. There is a pop streak to the proceedings, but then her father did not shy away from crossover status. The pick of the new songs this evening was a luscious version of ‘What I’m Doin’ Here’, closely followed by the increasingly popular ‘Looks Like Time’. The latter is reminiscent of the Angaleena Presley song ‘Bless My Heart’ and eases itself comfortably into the ‘cutting revenge’ genre.

Apart from the opportunity to make a true stab at being an independent artist, the passing of her father seemed to hold back the emotive backstory to the song ‘Remembering’. There probably will not be an Ashley Campbell set without this song, and a piece of Glen will always be with her on stage. Likewise, his trademark hit ‘Gentle on My Mind’ remains a staple of her sets. In a twist to the famous Samuel Johnson quip, ‘when a man (woman) is tired of this song, they are tired of country music’.

Ashley departed the stage promising to return and kept her word for the finale. For the final fifteen minutes of the evening, she set up camp with Mo Pitney and a few of the pickers to share ‘Jolene’, ‘I Still Miss Someone’ and a final unnamed bluegrass jam to to send folks home totally countrified.

In contrast to the slight familiarity with Ashley Campbell, the music of Mo Pitney was more of an unknown entity prior to this event. The name had flickered in the distance and a few dates in the UK read about a couple of years ago. Getting into his 2016 release, BEHIND THIS GUITAR proved a useful taster for this show, and certainly laid the foundation, which saw Mo billed as the headliner. Although his trademark song ‘Country’ wanders into ‘tell them’ territory, the rest of his act is certainly rinsed in the spirit of country music. The voice, simplicity of the heartfelt song and humble sentiment portray a performer hell bent on lineage.

Mo started his set in solo mode before joined by his sister on backing vocals and brother on bass, making it a family affair to further cement country tradition. The song choice leapt around a little between tracks off the album, a few covers, a couple unknown and a preview of what he has up his sleeve when the opportunity arises to make the next record. It was inevitable that the Hag would feature and true to form, the reality of ‘I Met Merle Haggard Today’ co-habited alongside ‘If We Can Make It Through December’. Feeling the buzz for audience participation, the opening line of ‘trailer for sale or rent’ needed no introduction for vociferous help on ‘King of the Road’. Another song that proved a hit with the crowd was ‘Boy & a Girl Thing’ interestingly preluded by the ubiquitous story of a song’s origin.

To be rational, the overall feel of the show was a Mo Pitney/Ashley Campbell presentation and this made it an evening to remember. They are two performers who uphold many of the principles of the genre and retain an ability to connect with a wider audience. Perhaps both artists could consider how to evolve their overseas touring with a more extensive band presence; however, this is subject to further financing. It was curious to see ten performers on stage across the three evening sets without any sighting of an electric lead guitar. Admittedly, compensation was rich with plenty of banjo and fiddle. It wil be a positive move for these two artists to retain the UK on the touring agenda and they will be made increasingly welcome by fans who care about genre preservation.

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