Arkansas Dave (or to be more precise: the Arkansas Dave Band this evening) is now based in Austin Texas, although an artist explicitly keeping faith with his roots. Maybe the trip away from the Delta region to a more cosmopolitan music environment was an essential career journey, but the rich heritage of his home state especially the blues legends brought up in a similar area was never going to leave the fray.
The instrumental quintet of lead, rhythm, bass, drums and keys creaked into gear on the stroke of nine thirty and only an eleven o’clock curfew curtailed the band, thus ensuring the roof of St. George’s Hall remained intact.
Last year the band toured the UK as a four-piece so the addition of the keys proved a master touch. They played a couple of Midlands gigs on that trip including a less intense lunch time session in West Bromwich as part of a region wide festival. This time the level edged up several notches, more folks lapped it up and the ground set for a return on future trips.
It was full on electric for most of the set, the exception being Dave reaching for his acoustic guitar to deliver a cover of Blaze Foley’s ‘Oval Room’. Thus ensuring the obligatory American apology for their president was shared, oh times are so different to Shepherd’s Bush Empire 2003. Elsewhere on the cover front, tunes shared included ones from Muddy Waters and Tom Petty, along with no doubt others that merged into a lengthy finale free of chat.
Those aware of the self-titled Arkansas Dave album from last year would have recognised plenty of tracks such as ‘Bad at Being Good’, ‘Chocolate Jesus’, ‘The Wheel’, ‘Diamonds’ and the standout tune ‘On My Way’. The last one was the real cue to get the party underway and is as melodic as you get when steering into the world of southern rock.
Americana is the flakey perch surveying this type of music in 2019, but essentially just good ole’ rock ‘n’ roll was served up; one of a roots variety burrowing deep back fifty, sixty, seventy years and more in influence. Arkansas Dave captured this perfectly in a style to blend a good time feel on both stage and in the audience. Others aim for such heights, but sometimes the authenticity of hailing from an area can just raise the bar a touch.
To get the Music in the Hall presentation up and running for the year, a couple of local youth acts played a short set to add a little more value to the entrance fee. Tom Southam opened things up with around twenty minutes of acoustic music, before a trio consisting of Joshua Terry, Maddie Abbotts and Isabella Gregory took to the stage for about half an hour of mainly original songs. The twin female voices blended well with some impressive acoustic guitar work to make the slot an enjoyable listen. Isabella delivered one tune solo with her guitar and came across as a performer with bags of potential, definitely one to watch.
If this evening’s gig was a pitch to get a return invite, Arkansas Dave achieved full marks. Rather than just passing through, the experience appeared to be wholly absorbed. The response was first class and there is growing evidence that this band (led by Dave and his long-term trusty guitarist sidekick Drew) can cut a niche a long way from home. Maybe the Severn and the Mississippi have more in common that we realise.