Monday, 30 April 2018

GIG REVIEW: Rachel Baiman + Molly Tuttle - Thimblemill Library, Smethwick. Sunday 29th April 2018

The hottest ticket in town; a statement that is going to resonate more when word gets around about the Rachel Baiman and Molly Tuttle duo show. With as much talent on display as a several piece band, this self-curated duo - assembled primarily for a European tour - left an indelible mark on the musical landscape of the West Midlands in the shape of a breathtaking show. This was a superlative exhibition from two performers bursting at the seams with the precious gift of virtuoso musicianship. Whether you honed in on the banjo and fiddle of Rachel or Molly’s extraordinary bluegrass picking on the acoustic guitar, a fabulous array of craftwork was widespread. The way these two very independent artists blended in a near sell-out show at Thimblemill Library raised the bar of quality a little higher as this versatile venue goes from strength to strength.

The format of the evening saw both performers generally take a switched lead across each of the two sets as the other flickered in and out with stellar support. Folks were still entering the venue as the main event commenced, on an evening characterised by an unusually early start even by Sunday standards. Rachel opened up in the spotlight and was fully equipped with a number of songs off her latest album SHAME, including the exceptional title track.

It was easy to see why she is a much sought after musician, which has included being an integral member of roots band 10 String Symphony and support work with artists such as Kacey Musgraves. One of her prime assets is a distinct vocal style that is so reminiscent of Gillian Welch and Maya de Vitry of The Stray Birds. A fine pair of vocalists to be associated with in the way they immerse into the soul of the song.

By the close of the first set, Rachel had won over a rapturous crowd and left them in fiery mode with an impassioned version of the Woody Guthrie inspired ‘Never Tire of the Road’, complete with the feisty chorus piece ‘You fascists are bound to lose. Beautifully decorated protest music with a powerful punch.

After the interval, Molly took centre stage and it did not take long to understand why she recently made history as the first female recipient of the International Bluegrass Musicians Association coveted instrumentalist award. This was doubly impressive from someone so young, to the extent we are awaiting impatiently for the first full-length album. As the set progressed, the assurance that it should be out early next year was given and subsequent new material was previewed. This was alongside songs from last year’s seven-track EP including ‘Good Enough’, ‘Save This Heart’ and ‘Friend of a Friend’. The irony of the last song is that Molly co-wrote it with Korby Lenker, who recently toured the UK, although his gig in the area was unfortunately cancelled.

Periodically during this part of the show, Rachel joined Molly on stage for numbers such as an old traditional fiddle tune that raised the tempo markedly. Although Molly was fighting the ubiquitous lurgy that often afflicts touring artists in the early throes of a trip, she still held it up vocally, though primarily letting her playing steal the show. Alongside a sublime of version of the John Hartford classic ‘Gentle on My Mind’, a stunning version of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘White Freightliner Blues’ proved the pinnacle of not just this show but among the best individual cover performances heard live for many a long time.

While the first part of the show was a greater collaborative effort led by Rachel, the second did lean more heavily in the Molly solo direction. Whatever format they chose to deliver, the standard was elegantly high and one destined to grow them a large following across this tour.

As part of the usual community and local artist focus that the organisers behind these library presentations adopt, there was an invitation to Midlands-based singer-guitarist Abi Budgen to play a few tunes in support of the main event. The opportunity of playing to a decent sized crowd is a useful experience for artists vying to increase their exposure on the local live circuit.

Over the last couple of years, Thimblemill Library in Smethwick has become an increasing renowned venue for touring American artists. The synergy with songwriters within these literate surroundings has not been lost and referred to on more than one occasion. Putting the lyrical content on one side, this evening was definitely more about the pristinely picked music of Rachel Baiman and Molly Tuttle. Two exceptionally talented musicians likely to be the hottest ticket in town on a regular basis in the future.

Thanks to Andy Dudley for the image

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