Wednesday, 4 December 2019

GIG REVIEW: The Small Glories - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 3rd December 2019

Cara Luft has built a loyal UK fan network, following the many tours she had undertaken over the years. On one of her several visits to Birmingham a few years back she introduced a new touring partner in the guise of fellow Canadian JD Edwards, which in effect was the embryonic stages of a brand new duo being born. Since that January evening at the Kitchen Garden in 2014, The Small Glories have gone from strength to strength on the back of a couple of album releases, signing to a US label and continual touring around the world including a successful stint in Australia. Perhaps it is the latter that shines the most favourable light on the duo as there is nothing quite like the interactive and connective nature of the live show to bring the best out of the pairing. It was of no surprise that the Kitchen Garden appeared on the latest touring schedule, and also that the venue was packed to its near capacity to greet the return of Cara and JD.

Once recollections from previous Kitchen Garden visits were out the way, the duo set about showing why they have become such popular performers, mixing wit with engaging stories and songs straight to the heart of the Canadian folk genre. Yes, the land from the Rockies to the Maritimes comes to the fore as the songs and stories evolve. Whether discovering hidden mountain communities, celebrating civic pride in Winnipeg or tracking some old fishing tales from the east coast, the audience were treated to a thoroughly entertaining spin across a land so effective in exporting its musical treasures.

Instrumentally, Cara exchanges between her trademark banjo and conventional folk acoustic guitar, while JD does likewise with his stringed accompaniment and harmonica. Vocal compatibility wrapped within a sheen of diversity helps shape the songs, of which many on the night were lifted off the latest album ASSINBOINE & THE RED, a title drawing influence from the duo's home city of Winnipeg. Indeed the whole album featured across the brace of sets that formed this fun-filled evening with numbers like 'Don't Back Down' and 'Sing' proving popular participation pieces.

The lengthy chat interludes didn't outstay their welcome, although material away from the latest album was a little thin with 'Time Wanders On' (a song written with Britain's Bella Hardy) and the unforgettable 'Bring 'Em All In' standing out. The latter was one of Cara's earlier songs pre-dating her link up with JD and recalled from the days when Cara toured alone as when first catching her play Bishop Auckland Town Hall back in 2012. Sadly a show not reviewed on these pages, but still fondly remembered.

Although it had been a couple of years since seeing them last, you only need to have a brief exposure to Cara and JD's infectious onstage persona to instantly realise why you have been a fan for a number of years. Across a show that ran almost up to two hours in active stage time, there was so much to enjoy in The Small Glories with every indication out there that we are likely to see more of Cara Luft and JD Edwards in 2020.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

GIG REVIEW: Bella Hardy - Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham. Saturday 16th November 2019

2019 is an active yet reflective year for Bella Hardy. The acclaimed English folk singer-songwriter has been in a non-stop cycle of music making, tours, album releases and innovative projects for close on twenty years. Maybe the time to take stock, and reflect on a back catalogue of an album count nearly in double figures and a recording song catalogue pushing three figures. It is certainly prolific output for a artist only in their mid thirties While not ready to step away from the limelight, she has taken a carefully selected twenty five songs from the catalogue, added a couple of news ones, and delivered POSTCARDS & POCKETBOOKS: THE BEST OF BELLA HARDY. This is a gift to old fans in a neatly presented compendium, and new ones in a shortened showcase format. The only polite thing to do next is take these songs on the road to remind folks why she is such as compelling live performer as well.

Birmingham's MAC has been a regular host for Bella Hardy over the years and it proved the final stopping point for a short week long tour aimed to promote the new record, which was part of a merchandise package that also included a hardback bound collection of all her lyrics. For this tour, a trio format was assembled with Sam Carter on guitar and Tom Gibbs turning his hand to piano most of the time apart from a couple of songs when he played clarinet. Bella opened on harmonium before settling on violin as her instrument of choice, both plucked gently and played conventionally. However, she is just as comfortable when playing the sole vocalist role; an attribute that has brought her most fame.

After Sam Carter opened the show with a couple of his own songs, including a new one titled 'The Anvil', Bella and Tom joined for a full two-set performance where fifteen tracks off the new album were shared alongside countless stories of their origin. An essential ingredient of any folk gig.

If you approached this gig with little knowledge about the music of Bella Hardy, it will be a given that you would have left well-versed two hours after entering the theatre. Not only is she an excellent writer of original songs, she often seeks out traditional ones and twists outcomes and perspectives. This happened on at least three shared this evening: 'Seventh Girl', 'Good Man's Wife' and 'Silvie Sovay'. While on the topic of traditional music, we were treated to a song that has only made the setlist in the last few shows after being a studio track for several years when Bella rose to the challenge of reciting the many, many verses of 'The Drunken Butcher of Tideswell'.

On the original front, 'The Herring Girl', the most familiar Bella Hardy song, made an appearance in the early stages. It is imperative a folk gig enacts its first murder as quickly as possible. Surpisingly, on this occasion the gruesomeness markedly receded.

For an artist steeped in the English folk tradition, Bella Hardy has often drew on her overseas experience which has seen stints spent living in China and America, plus a trip to Japan when opening for Lau. The latter experience led to 'Full Moon Over Amsterdam' being born during a lengthy stopover in Schiphol airport. Surely a place where many a touring singer-songwriter has drawn on the waiting experience.

Her stateside adventures led to 'Queen of Carter's Bar' coming out of a co-writing venture in Nashville, a city that gets referenced in 'Tequilla Moon' that formed the encore segment of tonight's show. The West Coast forms the backdrop to 'Learning to Let Go'', which opened the set, while 'Time Wanders On', a song Bella wrote in Calgary with Canadian artist Cara Luft, was one of the picks from the first half.

Perhaps the two crowning moments of this show came in the second half, a point where the trio's performance and particularly Bella's vocals hit that zone of aligning perfectly with the listening experience. First up, 'Lament for Derwent' came across as sheer bliss as Bella contemplated a moment when this Derbyshire location, in fact her home county, could have been lost to an onset of land re-alignment in the water industry. By the time we were served the beauty of the pre-encore number, 'Walk It With You', any investment in attending this gig had been handsomely repaid many times over.

If the next twenty years are as productive for Bella Hardy as the period leading up to POSTCARDS & POCKETBOOKS, then fans new and old from the folk circuit and beyond will be in for a real treat. Just like those attending the MAC this evening.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

GIG REVIEW: The Remedy Club + Hope in High Water - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Monday 11th November 2019

The Remedy Club
A quick check in the gig archives revealed it was only February and April last year when Hope in High Water and The Remedy Club respectively made their last visits to the Kitchen Garden. Maybe the crazy amount of gigs in the intervening period made these shows feel a lot longer ago. Roughly eighteen months since both duos last dropped into Kings Heath has seen developments move quickly to the point where one has a new album, and the other will not be too far behind on the evidence revealed during this appearance. This gig was part of a run of dates arranged in liaison with the Fish Records operation, key drivers in helping both acts get wider recognition around the UK.

With the pre-gig promotion seemingly evenly balanced, it could have been a toss up to who took centre stage, but it eventually panned out that Hope in High Water opened proceedings with an extended fifty-minute support set. This left The Remedy Club with around half an hour extra following the obligatory short interval to give folks a glimpse of what they are about.

A chunk of this extra time was given over to covers, but the Irish duo of Aileen Mythen and KJ McEvoy have a subtle and smart way interweaving the work of others into their set. Covering Lucinda Williams' 'Can't Let Go' followed a link of both artists working with producer Ray Kennedy, while it was only going to be appropriate to share a Hank song after The Remedy Club's own tribute to the effect of the great man in 'Listening to Hank Williams'. Celebrating the work of Elmore James reflected the duo's own blues-inspired past and who can knock an Irish act paying respect to Rory Gallagher.

Hope in High Water
While comparisons in set up were on the surface, you only had to dig a little deeper to uncover the contrasts. First up, Hope in High Water, the performing name for Josh and Carly, hail from Milton Keynes and are now in the phase of promoting their second full album release. BONFIRE & PINE is literally only days old, but like so many releases, it had been a long time in the run up between owning the songs and ultimately sharing them in a recorded format. Starting their set with the album opener 'Healed', they went on to play the title track, 'It's Over Now', 'Pray Away', 'Grenfell' and a few others during their allotted time slot. The penultimate one of this quartet has emerged as an early front runner in being the album pick, while the latter possesses an emotive strength to push forward the social commentary side of their writing. It is ironic that 'Grenfell' was released in the same week as another song about this tragedy, 'The Fire' written by Jamie Freeman and Ben Glover, gained an AMA UK song of the year nomination. Adversity does inspire important song writing and Hope in High Water's effort possesses equal credibility to the widely acclaimed other composition. 

Maintaining the contrast theme, Josh and Carly give their whole operation a greater roots sheen than their touring colleagues, to the extent where they dig quite deep for song inspiration. They represent a slightly introspective 'from the ground up approach', appropriate to the lifestyle they candidly share with live audiences. Every ounce of recognition received pays dividends for choices made and they are the epitome of a DIY stance to making music, plus a sign of a grass roots scene being in rude health.

The Remedy Club are a far more expansive duo. There is showbiz tinge to how they present their music, fired through Aileen's theatrical background that seeps into the way her vocals are projected. Likewise KJ's extrovert guitar skills pepper a series of songs resonating with serious hooks and more than a nod in the direction of popular appeal. These styles do manifest into creating an imaginative and memorable live show leaving those caught in their midst searching for a little more in the aftermath. This latest sortie across the Irish Sea sees the duo armed with some new songs that will form a new album release in the near future. One of the new songs has just been released as a single with 'True Hand-True Heart' invoking more than touch of invited audience participation. The true gem from the upcoming batch was 'Sweet Symphony', indicating that 2017's LOVERS, LEGENDS AND LOST CAUSES will be joined by a worthy follow up. However, this album may not be ready to give its mantle up yet as exemplified by fine performances of 'When Tom Waites Up' and 'Bottom of the Hill'.

Factors may deem that this evening's gig at the Kitchen Garden in Birmingham quickly fades into the memory as both The Remedy Club and Hope in High Water strive for some some level of plateau their music warrants. Yet there was something true, organic and connective about a show that may only live on in the virtual world of this site. Diamonds in the dust come from unlikely places.

Bonfire & Pine available here

Sunday, 10 November 2019

GIG REVIEW: The Delines - St.John the Evangelist, Oxford. Saturday 9th November 2019

Three assertions from this evening: Willy Vlautin and Amy Boone are exclusively compatible vehicles for each others art; the sedative-induced brass element gives the sound a more jazz than soulful feel, and The Delines are immense at magnifying a heavily curated album style in a live setting. Every column inch and word of mouth praise accrued in 2019 on the back of releasing THE IMPERIAL at the beginning of the year came to fruition at this sold out Oxford gig. Sheer class oozed from the stage as we were firmly reminded that it may be late in the calender year but pure polished gems can appear at any time.

On a personal front, The Delines experience began in June 2014 when they played the small room at the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham to around fifty people. This evening the audience must have been pushing to the unconfirmed four hundred mark such is the interest generated. Much of this has been the buzz around the new album, which acted as the main follow up to the 2014 debut COLFAX, although a lower profile release did appear in the interim period. This period did include UK shows where shamefully paths didn't cross, however the biggest unfortunate episode in the last five years was Amy Boone's accident, inevitably putting a huge dent in The Delines project. Happily she is now in a position to not only perform but tour overseas, with perhaps an added zest to make the most of a talent that is flourishing in this operation.

First and foremost, The Delines is the brainchild of Willy Vlautin; a main focus for him now the Richmond Fontaine days are in the past. An exceptional all round writer and guitar playing band leader, he seems to have found the perfect vocal foil in Amy Boone to unleash this latest bout of song writing. To a large extent, she acts as a narrator, albeit one with a beautifully exquisite voice, acting with acute precision to execute often explicitly driven story songs.

Going back to the soul debate, the music of The Delines definitely comes more from the head than the heart. There is a calculated side to how they operate leading to a tight knit delivery. From an audience perspective the sound element is far more projected through the keyboard and trumpet playing of key band member Cory Gray. The tempo and strings section is so deft, delicate and unobtrusive it lingers in the background absolutely extolling the virtue: less is more. Exactly like a top class official at a sports event being highly effective without taking centre stage. The focal point of any gig The Delines perform is going to be Amy Boone and the songs of Willy Vlautin that she wonderfully conveys to a blessed audience. The whole five-piece band format in tandem tonight gears towards this goal.

A personal viewpoint expressed all year has been that 'Eddie and Polly' edges 'Holly the Hustle' as the leading song on the new album. However there was role reversal this evening as the latter for instinctive reasons came across better. One constant all show was the desire to hang onto and savour every lyric Amy wrapped her vocal cords around. Right from 'That Haunted Old Place' in the set's early stages to the old favourite 'Oil Rigs at Night' at the heart of a four-song encore, this show was an intense yet highly pleasurable listening experience.

This latter song was one of the early introductions into the work of The Delines alongside the track 'Colfax Avenue' that also appeared in the set list tonight. While the focus of the show was mainly on the latest album, we were treated to both sides of a single recorded in Montana, with 'Eight Floors Up'  opening the set just after nine o'clock and 'Wait for Me' (the b side of the single) being one of a couple of songs Amy delivered from behind the keyboard. The latter moments allowed the trumpet of Cory Gray to be more directly expressed.

From a genre perspective, I would place The Delines right at the heart of Americana, maybe more from a wider social scale than a means for getting music to market. I lost count the number of places mentioned in songs, but will have a stab at Fort Worth, El Paso, Atlanta, Phoenix, Albuquerque and New Orleans for starters. Woven in between the themes, characters, places and issues are beautifully crafted songs proclaiming the worth of their originator.

Opening for The Delines for this and other shows on the tour was the experienced duo Jody Stephens and Luther Russell operating as the front piece of the band Those Pretty Wrongs. They are obviously artists steeped in the tradition of rock 'n' rollers edging into the early confines of alt-country and pre-Americana. They lent on a formula of harmonies and twang, and when in full flow came across as a decent act, whilst providing a good support choice for the refiner sounds of The Delines.

This Oxford show was held in the grand surroundings of St. John the Evangelist, a church with a well appointed interior that is clearly geared to hosting the arts alongside its prime purpose of existence. It is a venue occasionally used by promoter Empty Rooms Promotions and one that I last visited in 2014 to see Sarah Jarosz.

There has only been three Oxford gig trips this year, but the trio of Dale Watson, Ryan Bingham and The Delines make it a choice of only the best. With the gig year coming to a close, this show made a strong case for the personal favourite of the year, a thought that will be mulled over during the next six weeks. In the meantime, let's just reflect on the marvellous music made by The Delines, whether on record or on display in Oxford this evening.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Ags Connolly - Wrong Again

Don’t judge art by the cover, the saying intimates, but maybe in this instance the image goes a long way to dictating the outcome of the latest album from Ags Connolly. The simplicity is striking from the front and back poses of our esteemed country troubadour sitting proudly and independently in the homely confines of his local. Exqusiitely profound and without a single air of pretence, WRONG AGAIN comes across as a singular aim of pursuing the holy grail of making music as close to an ideal as is possible. This album tramples over borders and any bow to consensus or evolution. Ags Connolly makes no attempt to be a pseudo- American or a Brit putting an Anglo slant on American music. There is very little deviation from a focussed goal and maybe, the realisation that we are getting close to reenacting a dream. People latch onto country music in distant lands for a multitude of reasons. If you seek some sort of escapist romanticism that steers your mind away from the norm then this record might just be for you. It fits a model; an ideal; a notion, that this style of music can be perfected away from the soil of the lauded South and the expansive West. 

Let’s banish thoughts that WRONG AGAIN may be the pinnacle of what Ags Connolly has set out to do. Many country artists over the years have found that golden touch and then added the knack of repetition without a drop in standards, even if evolution hasn’t been the byword. What Ags Connolly does in the future is down to his creative whim. What Ags Connolly has done in the present is make an album that glitters with the golden touch of idealism.

Throughout the ten tracks that form this album, an iconic sound is nailed down. Whether you seek a soundtrack rich with fiddle and pedal steel or symbolic themes of sadness, loss and contemplative thoughts, all can be found in the vaults of this album. There is a marked distance between singer and the song, leaving a gap where the listener can surmise, explore or play games of invention. As much as Ags Connolly is a talented singer-songwriter, he never shies away from extolling the virtues of those who have inspired him to pursue this artistic calling. Therefore seeing a cover nestled alongside the originals is no surprise. The highest compliment you can pay is that the Connolly-writes are not overshadowed by Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Early Morning Rain’. Our esteemed unassuming country troubadour would cast off such praise, but in this instance it is wholly endorsed. 

From the opening strains of ‘I’ll Say When’, through the pain of ‘Lonely Nights in Austin’ to the climax of proclaiming ‘Sad Songs Forever’ we are constantly in the midst of a country record that aches with feeling and emotion. Much is down to the vocal style that Connolly curates, but no doubt the utmost care and attention imprinted into the production process pays dividends in handsome proportions. 

You will have to seek far and wide to find a better country album in 2019 outside the parameters of the norm. WRONG AGAIN simmers, flourishes and glows with country gold. However, this is Ags Connolly we are talking about and many have known what he is capable of for a long time.

GIG REVIEW: The Local Honeys - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 5th November 2019

It has been a bit of a stop-go start getting into The Local Honeys. A last minute hitch delayed seeing them make their Birmingham debut at this same venue back in January. Likewise clashes didn't go in their favour when attending the SummerTyne Festival in the summer. It proved a case of good things come to those who wait when no hiccups impeded a Bonfire Night return to the Kitchen Garden and a chance to check out this highly rated touring duo out of eastern Kentucky.

First good news for Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs was a vastly increased turnout from the last visit and a point where they were just a handful of ticket sales short from a 'house full' sign. This is a testimony to the interest generated over the year and perhaps word getting around that they deliver a truly memorable and engaging show. Having now been fully engrossed in a two-hour Local Honeys gig, there is full concurrence with this sentiment and the firm prediction that we are going to hear a lot more from these two talented musicians in the coming years.

Hailing from the Appalachian coal mining area of eastern Kentucky provides a huge clue that the music style heavily leans towards the traditional side. Strutting the fault line where country music meets folk, bluegrass and old time roots, our two protagonists explore every crevice possible to seek the influence of song, or perhaps hollow to draw on a touch of local vocabulary. They adopt the caricature of southern lore purveyors to varying degrees, both natural and enhanced. Voices come straight out of a mountain haze, while the stringed procession of guitar, banjo and fiddle resonate from any homely shack fine tuning the sounds of the past.

The music and songs (both of an original and traditional origin) play a large, yet not sole part in what The Local Honeys bring to the live music experience. The interaction, chat, passionate approach to their craft and affable personalities weigh heavy in appeal as the pair steer down roads of serious social commentary alongside showing admirable camaraderie to their kinfolk, both geographically and musically.

The Local Honeys are two albums into their recorded journey with clear plans afoot to build on this in the near and distant future. Songs from the setlist called in on their debut record from 2017 and an album full of diverse gospel songs that has just been released. Alongside these, the duo frequently dipped into the traditional well and paid tribute to artists such as the Carter Family, Shirley Collins and Joan Ritchie, the latter in the guise of the much covered and loved song 'The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore'.

The plight of local Kentuckians adversely affected by controversial mining practices featured high on the duo's social agenda, in tandem with the environmental catastrophe of techniques like blowing the top off mountains to mine coal. These extended into substance issues afflicting many in the own counties and wider state including the prevalence of prescription addiction. This was highlighted on a personal scale by a song Montana wrote for a friend.

Interspersing the stern stuff was plenty of lighter moments and informative chat like the duo returning to the UK in the new year to open for Tyler Childers. From a musicianship perspective, the display was of the highest degree (an often given from touring American old time stringed bands). Linda Jean majored on guitar and fleeting fiddle, while Montana found comfort and pleasure in the banjo along with occasional guitar. They were not going to let a near sold out crowd go home without a yodel and a firm stamp of delivering a show that was both memorable and uplifting in equal proportions.

As much as I would like to whole heartedly bless the recorded music of The Local Honeys, it is near impossible to detach it from the riveting live experience. A doubled edged pill that does create a logistical challenge in perpetual touring, but the live arena is where the true treasures lie. Luckily, we look set to have plenty of opportunities in the future to enjoy the music of Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs. They ensured a Birmingham Bonfire Night had as much sparkle in the Kitchen Garden as in the many November 5th displays around the city.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

GIG REVIEW: Kim Lowings - Artrix, Bromsgrove. Saturday 2nd November 2019

The eleventh month has been the longest wait in any calendar year to catch a Kim Lowings live performance since first discovering her while opening for Jess Morgan in Stourbridge back in 2013. Indeed, the stretch is even longer as the previous performance seen was way back in the summer of 2018 when she appeared on the main stage at Beardy Folk Festival with the full Greenwood band. It is not that she has been totally inactive in this interim sixteen month period, although we are in a 'between album phase' that hopefully will be snapped at some point in the not too distant future. In light of the gap, there was something refreshing about seeing the live show again, even if this evening's format was a stripped back set up playing in a duo with her dad Andrew. To some extent, this also had its own advantages as Kim herself implied that it is good to revisit how the songs were born and take this side of her music out on the road. So the stage was set for a return to the studio performing area of Bromsgrove's Artrix arts centre and around an hour and half of what Kim Lowings does best.

This venue was also the host of the most recent album launch gig when WILD AND WICKED YOUTH was delivered to the world just over two years ago. Time is ticking along nicely in the breadth of material available for sharing at shows. Like many contemporary folk artists, Kim is at ease seeking three different song sources. Self composed material nestles neatly alongside traditional work that sees both arrangement and re-working. Smart covers have been generally limited in the past, but they seem to come more to the fore this evening. For the record, Kim's versions of Joni Mitchell's 'Carey' and Richard Thompson's 'From Galway to Graceland' have been heard before. This wasn't the case for the Show of Hands song 'Hallow Eve', topical to say the least. Another song not previously heard in a set before was the traditional piece 'So Early, Early in the Spring', made famous by Judy Collins.

The latter song was sung purely in a cappella style, the last of four modes she used on the evening to present her music. Instrumentally, she switched between guitar, piano and her trademark mountain dulcimer. The middle of this trio is one not always practically available at a lot of shows, so the piano is savoured when used. This evening Kim chose to share three of her own songs on the keys including a commissioned piece titled 'The Malverns', the Shakespeare inspired song written for the Company of Players project 'Song of the Philomel' and 'Firestone, taken off the last album.

From a songwriting perspective, early in the first set Kim presented a pair of newish songs, both yet to find a recorded home and written from a 'cause' angle, a source not really tapped into before. 'Call Me River' joined the growing band of society in general, and musicians in particular, focussing on mental health. On a more specific level, 'Go Tell the World' was inspired by an untold story of women suffering in Bangladesh and came across as a very impressively written and powerful song.

On the subject of new songs, 'Hells Own Town' had a particularly local theme which is best understood when in the presence of West Midlands folk, particularly those of us from the twin No.9 towns of Stourbridge and Halesowen. Yet another example of Kim's flair for contributing to the folk tradition of turning old themes into new songs.

While we have generally focussed so far on the recent past and intended future, there was still plenty of older material to entertain many fans who have supported her work over the years. She kicked off the evening with her version of 'Annie Laurie', housed on 2013's DEEPEST, DARKEST NIGHT EP and for a long time the go-to video when seeking something visually to link. Also from this record, we heard 'Off to Sea', a song that gets better with every version heard.

Kim Lowings regulars can have their usual singalong to her standard closer 'Away Ye Merry Lasses', 'Bold Riley' and 'Oh the Wind and Rain'. Also 'Maggie's Song', an original from a family story, is now staple on the setlist since first appearing on the HISTORIA album in 2015. To complete a superb night of song we heard 'The Newry Highwayman' and 'The Wood Wife'. There may have been the odd one missed here, but hopefully you get the point that this was an excellent and fulfilling show.

As previously stated, the Greenwood were given the night off leaving just Andrew on guitar, bouzouki and bodhran to provide the perfect foil to Kim's exquisite vocals and highly engaging approach to song interpretation. In some respects, the break between seeing them live acted as an energiser (bearing in mind I was probably pushing twenty shows/sets in five years), yet it firmly rammed home that the next break shouldn't be so long. Anyway with it highly likely that new recorded material will be with us in good time, circumstances will dictate matters.

The world of music is so vast and accessible that we can let our mind drift anywhere. Sometimes it is fulfilling to just focus a little closer to home. It helps you feel a little more grounded. Thankfully we have an artist with roots in our town to do just this.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

GIG REVIEW: Carter Sampson - St.Pancras Old Church, London. Wednesday 30th October 2019

America may have its Mother Church; the UK just utilises the real thing. A rough finger count has St.Pancras Old Church as the sixth different holy place to see a gig in recent years, with no doubt a lengthy list of many others doing likewise up and down the country. This exchange of performing space does throw an extra dimension on the live music experience. Acoustics, ambience and atmosphere are frequently called out alongside a tendency for artists to fully test the surroundings by stepping away from the mic to strip song and music down to its purist form. One of my earliest memories of a country/folk/Americana touring artist performing in a church was the Good Lovelies singing a version of 'Hallelujah' in Ross-on-Wye. To bring things up to date in a similar setting but very different town, Carter Sampson closed this return to St, Pancras Old Church with a personal moving version of the film classic 'Moon River', delivering an identical feeling to what occurred on the English/Welsh border a few years ago.

There has been more than a few column inches on these pages extolling the virtue of Carter Sampson's music following the discovery a couple of years ago. Primarily, these were around the album WILDER SIDE which proved a firm favourite in 2016, and still stands the test of time. Since this introduction, the follow up release LUCKY continued the good work and the recorded content has expanded into a couple of UK visits including a set witnessed at Maverick Festival also in 2016 and a full show savoured at the Kitchen Garden in 2018. Unfortunately dates couldn't be aligned for a Birmingham return on this latest short run of UK shows (yes UK is 3/4 accurate with gigs in England, Wales and Scotland), but Carter Sampson has enough credit in the bank to justify a reasonable road trip, and to be the focal point of a couple of half term days spent in London.

After initially touring solo, the format has expanded into a succession of trios for the last two tours. While the source of the touring companions remains Oklahoma, the enlisting of Kyle Reid and Jason Scott for the 2019 trip represents a pairing that is closest to the origin of Carter Sampson's music. Both have had a major impact on her recordings and there was a high degree of synergy to how this show projected and panned out. 

One enhancement from previous Carter Sampson shows was the addition of pedal steel. This came courtesy of Reid and added a zest to the country side of the sound. There was no finer example than a version of the Shel Siverstein song 'Queen of the Silver Dollar'. A shining beacon from the LUCKY album and one from the lofty plateau of tunes shared between coming on stage around quarter past nine before departing with a touch of the movies approximately an hour and half later.

The gratitude shown towards Scott and Reid agreeing to tour with her this time was extended in the invitation to share a couple of songs each, enabling them to show that they are equally as adept in fronting the party as playing the trusty sidekicks. They in effect acted as the third and fourth voice on lead vocals during the evening as the support came from one half of the Oxford-based duo Loud Mountains. It transpired that Sean Duggan is in the motion of branching out alone as the duo slims down to a solo core now that brother Kevin is/has re-locating/ed to Nashville. So alas no more sibling harmonies though Sean is far from done on the UK circuit as exemplified by his performance and intentions in the limelight this evening. 

Due to Carter being in an in-between album phase (apart from a short Trio release EP with Reid and Scott which sees four older songs re-worked alongside a new one), most of the setlist was drawn from last year's LUCKY album. Highlights included the title track, 'Tulsa', 'Ten Penny Nail', 'Hello Darlin'' and 'Rattlesnake Kate'. The last of these is fast becoming a popular Carter Sampson live number helped by its fascinating back story. The preceding track on this list referenced Kalyn Fay in its introduction, a fellow Oklahoma artist who I have got to know more about since Carter toured last year via reviewing her album GOOD COMPANY in September '18. If pushed into a corner to spotlight one precious moment from the show this could be the one. 

Sadly, the slight dimming of time as seen much of the excellent WILDER SIDE album slip off the setlist to the extent that we only heard the title track during this evening's show. Renewal and progression is the fuel for any forward thinking artist, but hopefully some of the cracking songs off this album such as 'Medicine River' and 'Highway Rider' don't fade into the memory as live favourites. Next time maybe. 

Despite this minor dip, there is still the utmost respect that Carter Sampson takes the risk to promote her music overseas with all the sacrifice and trepidation that must ensue. There is enormous faith in her ability as a singer-songwriter, and to deliver music in a sumptuous style that embodies the living spirit of a junction where strands of country, folk and Americana conspire to prosper. There was a good fit between the music of Carter Sampson and the spiritual upbeat surroundings of this evening's venue. St.Pancras Old Church in its form tonight may be a deviation for both host, guest and even, yours truly, however things gelled splendidly to take this Carter Sampson appreciation a few further steps down the road.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

GIG REVIEW: Marry Waterson & Emily Barker - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 29th October 2019

Songwriting retreats where artists formally meet up to share and hone their craft appear to be increasingly popular. It's not that audiences are open to such things, just that more and more songs are being introduced as originating from these structured events. This has happened on consecutive nights during a current run of four straight gigs. First Robert Vincent preluded a new song with a story of it being a co-write with James House at one of these events. Now a pair of artists have taken the concept a whole step forward by not only meeting up to write one song, but continue the association to come up with a whole album. This process is not just a vehicle for novices to plot their way forward. Indeed Robert Vincent has written some excellent songs prior to his involvement and the two songwriters who spun the whole concept in a new direction are no other than established operators, Emily Barker and Marry Waterson. 

Earlier this year, A WINDOW TO OTHER WAYS introduced the collaboration of these two artists to the recorded world with the next step to tour the album in several venues around the country. Birmingham's Hare and Hounds hosted the Midlands staging, which was enabled by a joint promotion between Moseley Folk Festival and the Kitchen Garden. Like the other dates on the tour, Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou were the billed support act, but just has had occurred on previous dates, illness restricted the appearance with Trevor Moss riding this gig solo. Not that this guy is going to hold back and miss the opportunity to share some of the songs that made this husband and wife duo a popular act on the acoustic, folk and alternative circuit over the last decade. 

From the solo guitar of Trevor Moss, the evening grew into a four-piece operation as Emily and Marry entered the stage backed by the ever present Lukas Drinkwater on basses and Rob Pemberton on drums. What was striking as this gig breezed through its seventy-minute setlist were the multitude of differences between the pair and how well things had gelled to bring the collaboration to this point. 

First of all Marry Waterson is a straight up no frills vocalist. Steeped in the tradition of the English song and born into a family of folk royalty. Ample evidence was aplenty that we were in the presence of an immense talent. The latter implication is totally understated when it comes to Emily Barker, who can somewhat leave you drained when keeping up with her diverse and eclectic approach to making music. Not only were her glacial vocals in contrast to shades of earthy Yorkshire finesse that seep into Marry's, but she proceeded to play acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboard, banjo and harmonica. It became apparent during the show that many of the songwriting ideas came from Marry, but breathed a whole new life when colliding with the artistic innovation of Emily.

A quick peep at the setlist revealed the entire album was played during the set, which left a couple of spaces for each artist to take the sole spotlight to further extol what they offer from a more individual perspective. Emily Barker, an artist who never stands still, played a couple of new songs from her next solo project, similarly to what she did when last in the area while playing a solo gig in nearby Smethwick. Marry Waterson's efforts were straight from the iconic folk playbook; no music required as the voice is all that's needed. 

As the evening rolled towards its conclusion, we were treated to the popular song 'Bright Phoebus', introduced as written by Marry's uncle, Michael Waterson, and one that Emily had been singing long before this collaboration was born. To send folks home content, all four protagonists stepped off mic to the front of the stage to sing the traditional song 'Some Old Salty'. Job done and the possibility that maybe we will never see this collaboration in action again.

On the journey home, thoughts turned to how many different formats Emily Barker had been seen live in. The count proceeded: solo, duo with Lukas, own band, Red Clay Halo, Venna Portae, Applewood Road and now in conjunction with Marry Waterson. There may even have been more. Final thought ended with the precious appreciation of witnessing two exceptional artists conspiring to take their music in new directions. Renewal and innovation remains the oxygen of keeping live music fresh.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

GIG REVIEW: Robert Vincent - Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham. Monday 28th October 2019

The irony of discussing streamed music funding models in the vicinity of a small but dedicated band of gig goers each paying £14 to attend on a Monday night in a tiny city centre cellar bar quickly resonated around all concerned. This signalled the ultimate bond of three artists on stage and in front of them, the very reason they exist. A poignant moment indeed, yet one that struck a chord and if anything helped bring the purpose of live music together. From the moment Matt Owens commenced his opening set at 8:15 to Robert Vincent not creating a shock two hours later by ditching 'Demons' as the closer, this ad-hoc combo sprang up as an unpolished gem, not exactly purring like a stage managed operation, but prevalent in an unconscious gel that only intuitive musicians can adopt. 

Essentially this was a Robert Vincent gig, but certainly one with a difference. Over the last six years, I have seen him live on several occasions and in different formats. These included full band shows at Ramblin' Roots, Cambridge Folk Festival and opening for the Turnpike Troubadours, solo shows like the first time at Palmfest in Brighton back in 2013 and most recently in a songwriting exchange evening with Dean Owens in Birmingham. The common theme has been that none of these was actually a headline Robert Vincent show where he was charged with owning the evening. Tonight was all different and in a format away from convention. 

This current run of dates around the country is a precursor to a new album that is due out most likely in the new year. For theses shows, he has hooked up with a fellow singer-songwriter in Matt Owens (most significantly known as a member of popular indie folk group Noah and the Whale). The deal is Owens opens the show with a drummer by the name of Jimmy Daniels and they in turn back Vincent on keys and drums respectively. You have to be creative and resourceful on the road. Interestingly, there is not a lead electric guitar in sight (though Owens reaches for the bass on a couple of occasions). The result is a concoction that works in the most instinctive form. Far from slick in places, but who craves that from live music, where instinct and reaction can rule. 

Four paragraphs in and a first mention of Birmingham's Sunflower Lounge. Not the most popular venue in the city for music of a country, roots or Americana persuasion. One defined by its cosy nature and ability to make a crowd of around thirty look positively welcoming. However, this evening it housed a gig that immediately raced up the year's live music appreciation charts.

This was the second time seeing Matt Owens open a show in the Midlands area in 2019. Back in May he supported Thea Gilmore in Bromsgrove, and like this evening showed his versatility by appearing in the headliner's band. The set he played here was a lot more vibrant, mainly due to the addition of Jimmy Daniels on drums. It came across better, even though the songs and stories were largely similar. 

Having previously seen Robert Vincent play sole acoustic and full on electric, it was interesting to see how he came across in the former mode, but with added drums and keys. Overall, it was pretty good, even on songs such as 'So in Love' and 'November', which were designed for the rock treatment. 

Maybe each time I'd seen him play live before there was an added pressure of performing in a multi-act environment. This time a natural persona shone brightly, which when matched with an incisive wit and acute songwriting skills, constituted an impressive stage performance. Obviously, the latter is what will ultimately drive his career, and this side proved in stellar health as several songs from the upcoming album were previewed.

The main new song was the one just released as a single and available for just a meagre 79p we were reminded. 'This Town' may well appear different on record to the version heard this evening, but it sounded excellent c/o Matt and Jimmy doing their piece. The same has to be said about the others previewed, and on first listen those who enjoyed the last award winning Robert Vincent album are going to be treated very kindly in the new year.

Just prior to 'Demons' finishing the show, yes no change there or likely to be, the loyal crowd tested their own vocals to 'I'll Make the Most of My Sins'. A small but beautifully sounding choral ensemble. At this point, what admittedly had been viewed as a slightly low key evening in advance had evolved into something that can be fondly recalled as the moment where Robert Vincent shook off a tag of not always owning the party. Of course, many fans will have observed this before, but headline Midlands gigs haven't been too frequent in the past, and I was unable to attend his Cuban Embassy show last year. 

Anyway, previous neglects are now cast aside and the scene is set for a very prosperous 2020 for Robert Vincent. I'll be there somewhere down the line. 

Monday, 28 October 2019

GIG REVIEW: The Rails - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Sunday 27th October 2019

A member of the Thompson clan is just one piece of the jigsaw, though not a too shoddy one to portray when making introductions. Throw into the mix a co-front person with the pedigree of James Walbourne and it of no surprise that The Rails have created great waves since moving into the world of a recording outfit in 2014. The core duo of Walbourne and Kami Thompson, husband and wife in their regular lives, morph into a five-piece band when hitting the road, and it is this format that greets folks heading out to catch them live on the current tour. This latest run of dates coincides with the release of the band's most recent album. Therefore the bulk of the seventy minute set played at the Hare and Hounds this evening came from the recently released CANCEL THE SUN and those present had the perfect opportunity to tune into its riches in a near unfiltered and complete state.

This album is The Rails' third full length release since formation and cements a status of being at the forefront of the folk rock fraternity, just like Kami's father Richard was, close on fifty years ago. Yes, the band do hit it hard and heavy in places, but in a crafted way that never loses a grip on being purveyors of fine folk songs. There is a dynamic edge to the way the music is delivered that thrills folk and rock fans alike. Gaps are left for harmonies and slower tunes to prosper alongside fusing the influence of established keyboard player Sean Read, and a trusty backline of drums and bass. The tunes range from uptempo popular numbers like 'Other People' and 'Late Surrender' from a compact but perfectly formed back catalogue to newbies such as 'Ball and Chain' and 'Call Me When it All Goes Wrong', which go a long way towards spearheading the sound of the latest album.

In line with the rituals of folk, a traditional piece gets a full makeover, and in this instance its 'William Taylor'. Encore number 'The Dictator' was introduced as a response to the mobile phone, while the inevitable stripped down slot where the backing band took a breather, Walbourne dealt a song he wrote many years ago with the late Bap Kennedy in 'On the Mighty Ocean Alcohol'. Ending with a little nod to the above.

To keep the rock part to the fore, our two co-leaders stick to electric guitar all evening, whilst still moving to the mood of the songs. The title track off the new album, which closed the pre-encore part of the set, saw a good mix of Thompson kicking things off vocally before hubby concludes with the evening's most memorable guitar segment  The London roots of the band, Walbourne in particular, are not too far in the distance as found in the pair of tracks 'The Cally' and 'Mossy Well', both taking influence from real life North London. 

In line with a good night's entertainment presented by Birmingham Promoters, local vocalist Gabby Kettle opened the show with a short set of keyboard accompanied personal songs and left no-one in the audience in the dark of her considerable talent in the voice department. Maybe the polar opposite to what The Rails went on to deliver in style, but still the perfect complement, and all in all, an enjoyable experience. 

Three albums in and many shows played, The Rails continue to power forward as a band. Kami Thompson and James Walbourne harness their talents splendidly to play a brand of music that is both cultured and edgy. A fiery mix to continue a long tradition of folk rock prodding the boundaries of convention. All in evidence on this Sunday evening in Kings Heath.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Hannah Rose Platt - Letters Under Floorboards : Continental Song City

The lure to compare and contrast a new album with the previous work of an artist is one mulled over to determine any degree of relevance. In the midst of gathering some thoughts on Hannah Rose Platt’s long awaited follow up to her 2015 debut effort, thoughts did turn back to an artist who drifted under the microscope via an independent network and left a positive impression. Not only was PORTRAITS dusted down and played, but past published thoughts were relived to gauge the starting point of a journey that ventures in a new direction now that LETTERS UNDER FLOORBOARDS is delivered to the world. 

Firstly, the four years between releases has seen Hannah striving to remain a presence to such an extent that her own network has solidified in an established community where it was initially felt her music would find synergy and conformance. So a case of all change in the team assembled to create the album was initiated. Secondly, the names of those called up reads like a ‘who's who’ of musicians from a very tight and productive community. Having observed Hannah’s moves over the last few years, it was of little surprise to read names such as Thomas Collison, Danny Wilson, Joe Bennett, Tony Poole, Henry Senior and others appear on the credits. Therefore commenting on a beefed up sound from the more acoustic folk sounding first album is a given, yet the players have helped skilfully curate a record where Hannah Rose Platt never relinquishes control. 

Perhaps underpinning the music of Hannah Rose Platt is a trait that will always be prevalent in her work. She is a born and gifted story telling songwriter with a natural knack of transferring literate thoughts into aesthetic songs. Whether working with fiction or reality, the results pose thoughts in the listener’s ear to ponder, seek or just enjoy. Like most singer-songwriters, Hannah will stride an extra mile to share the influences and drivers of her craft. Whether through filtered/unfiltered media or direct engagement via a live show, expect the legs of the eleven tracks on the new album to accomplish many miles of explanation before the curtain is pulled. Only then this will be likely due to the next batch of songs arriving. 

Another constant between albums is the name Sid Griffin. Back in 2015, his words were used to boost the profile, now four years later it is the voice that features in full duet mode. ‘I Will Tell You When’ is one of the album’s most recognisable tracks as multiple listens begin to shape where the album sits in your listening hierarchy. 

On the subject of recognition, ‘Chanel & Cigarettes’ was the first track to surface while an agonising wait went on to seek a suitable and viable route for the entire collection to find a recorded home. It became a song shared in the live shows, with a lyrical content that leaves little to the imagination in the repercussions of straying a touch too far. 

LETTER UNDER FLOORBOARDS (the title is lifted from a lyric that goes a long way to creating an imaginative source for many of the songs) possesses far more substance than allows for the top tracks to be easily anointed in the embryonic stages of an album’s life. Yet temptation to draw attention to a couple is cheekily yielded. ‘Brooklyn, New York’ is one of those touching immigration tales that springs from left field, while contemplating whether the heart is warmed or left considerably colder; over to the listener. ‘When Audrey Came to Call’ is another fascinating pursuit of committing thoughts to song and scores highly when you want to put the words on one side for a while and just absorb the strength of the tune. 

There are critical moments on the record where you can measure the magnitude of a seismic sound switch, courtesy of the players involved. Album opener ‘Illuminate’ and ‘Black Smoke’, found deep in the vaults of the second half, fall into this category. Whether you consider these musicians: good ole rockers, alt-country throwbacks or UK Americana pioneers, there was always likely to be moments when they rule the roost. Own moments maybe, but never own the whole process it must again be reiterated. 

Of course LETTERS UNDER FLOORBOARDS is best consumed with lyric booklet in hand, just to ensure both modes for passive engagement are activated. To take a step further, it is worth checking out some of Hannah’s spoken notes as found in interviews she has given, especially in Between the Lines podcast. Alternatively, it would be remiss of her not to maximise any opportunity to tour the hell out of this record and spread the word in the most primal way a singer-songwriter can. So attend these shows if you get the chance. Hopefully, the next time she plays Birmingham it won’t clash with a Kelly Willis or Dale Watson concert. These Texans don’t tour too regularly! 

Lavish praise heaped on PORTRAITS didn’t fall on barren ground. LETTERS UNDER FLOORBOARDS is all about positive evolution. Moving on the highway of opportunity without losing grip of what inspires an artist’s existence. This album has a prosperous life well past the humble release-hugging review. It may be an example of perseverance; it is certainly an example of excellence. All an artist can do is put their best out there. In the case of Hannah Rose Platt, it will resonate strongly and repay the faith any person has had in her ability to make music that matters. 

Album available here

Saturday, 12 October 2019

GIG REVIEW: Curse of Lono - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Wednesday 9th October 2019

Two prevailing thoughts from attending this gig at the Hare and Hounds were: 1) those anointing Curse of Lono as lauded pioneers of UK generated Americana rock are pretty smart and, 2) isn't it about time John Murry shifted from being an artist known to one actually listened to. The first needed no further action as this show confirmed what had been briefly considered when seeing them play an opening set for Chuck Prophet back in 2017. The second rectified within 24 hours of the gig by listening intently to John Murry's most recent album. You can debate streaming all day long, but its propensity to unlock easy access and enable widespread availability moves the world forward in a positive way.

There was an element of military precision about this show, which acted as the opening night of Curse of Lono's latest UK tour. John Murry on at 8, finishes 30 minutes later. Main band enter stage dead on 9, then depart for merch stand/bar not a minute either side of half ten. Great for us punctuality sticklers. Aside from the impeccable timekeeping, the music also did its job immaculately. His name may have already appeared in this review, but there is no holding back on the acute observation of John Murry coming across as the dark side of Chuck Prophet. His opening set rolled out as a fabulous drift into the rambling world of imperfection when a glimpse of masked genius pokes its head above the malaise. Whether plucking some aura inducing tunes independently on acoustic or gently strumming electric while temporarily backed by Curse of Lono (minus Felix), he cut through the haze of the fuzzy Hare and Hounds lighting to bring a mesmeric slice of Americana's alternative underbelly. 

John Murry and Curse of Lono were good for each other tonight. We saw our esteemed opener join the band for a couple of tracks deep into the main set. 'Dead Flowers' may have been covered a million times, but budge up a little for one more. 
Felix Bechtolshheimer may have a wry smile when he gazes upon his Emerging Artist award bestowed on the band earlier this year. Fair enough, Curse of Lono only formed in 2015, but there are a few more miles on the personal clock. Anyhow, such recognition opens doors and the band have gone from strength to strength releasing two full length albums and a re-conditioned third in the legendary Toe Rag studios as well as recently representing the UK in formal US Americana circles. 

This evening saw the band on apparent top form, (if they weren't they are better than I thought) slaying an array of tracks ranging from some out and out folk rockers to ones of a more sensitive persuasion. They operate as a tight knit five-piece outfit, with the usual quartet of keys and lead up front assisted by drums and bass bringing up the rear, plus the usual fluid frontman. Forever the twain in the standard band set up witnessed from the floor. 

Our front man periodically switches guitars, beats a single drum on one track and takes frequent time out to engage an audience in multiple ways. The hugely personal mixes with the irreverent and by the end of the show you feel you know a little more about who Curse of Lono are. You are certainly exposed to their fine musicianship and that essential knack of blending as a band. Keys and harmonium c/o Dani Ruiz Hernandez are always prevalent, though occasionally you wish they would drive a track a little more. Lead guitarist Joseph Hazel rises to the challenge to take up the mantle for the required solos and obliges with amplified intent. Felix keeps thing ticking over from the front, in unison with his long term colleague Neil Findley behind on drums. Charis Anderson completes the line up on electric bass, although you can turn that on its head by saying that is really where it all starts. 
The smaller upstairs room of the Hare and Hounds hosted this evening's gig and was well-populated with many Curse of Lono devotees lured into sharing the vocals on some of the the band's most popular songs. This included tracks such as 'Pick Up the Pieces' and 'Don't Look Down' from the band's debut 2017 album SEVERED. Indeed the bulk of the tracks from this release and its 2018 follow up AS I FELL featured in the setlist. The odd song out was 'Goin' Out West', which had its first recorded outing on the new Curse of Lono album. This record titled 4AM AND COUNTING saw the band go into the aforementioned Toe Rag studios and re-record a number of tracks off the previous albums in a special live and stripped back format. The lead single from this album 'Welcome Home' was another track inked onto the setlist for inclusion this evening. 

While this Curse of Lono performance had its roots in the full band set up, there was still a slot for Felix to share the first encore song 'All I Got' accompanied only by Dani on keys. Another song from a sensitive perspective was 'I'd Start a War for You'. 'Not to be taken literally' quipped Felix, who was also candid about his own past and some of the issues he has overcome. 

This gig was certainly a valuable experience in getting to know more about Felix Bechtolshheimer, Curse of Lono, and the music that is exciting many folks on the cusp of the Americana circuit where the sound tumbles into some remnants of indie rock. Not forgetting the presence of John Murry, set to feature on all the dates the band undertake on this short tour. Yes, so many positives drawn on this latest trip down Kings Heath way. 

Thursday, 10 October 2019

GIG REVIEW: The Orphan Brigade - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 8th October 2019

The journey began in some parts just over four years when an album popped up in the inbox by a new name, but with an interesting concept. Pieces quickly assembled that this was part the work of Ben Glover, an artist quite well known at the time for his association with Gretchen Peters and Mary Gauthier alongside a solo album released and reviewed the previous year. Over time, Ben's output has gathered pace, and that project from a band intriguingly hailed as The Orphan Brigade morphed into two further albums filtering out through a similar process to the original concept. 

Likewise to Ben Glover's steady growth, the name of Neilson Hubbard started to exponentially expand as the production engineer on what seemed to be every other album churned out from a tightly knit community of progressive artists in Nashville. Admittedly, the third Orphan Brigade member remained the lower key figure, although it doesn't take too much effort to deduce that Joshua Britt is as active as anybody operating in this scene of songwriting, collaboration and music production. 

So let's catapult things from that first listen to SOUNDTRACK TO A GHOST STORY to the first moment that Ben, Neilson and Joshua stand literally a couple of paces in front of me and present the epic music that has come to define The Orphan Brigade. A Tuesday evening in Birmingham's Kitchen Garden venue completed the cycle began in 2015, and now from informed sources, one ready to yield another full turn. 

Kentucky, Osimo, Co. Antrim and Birmingham may not have too much in common, but synergy emerged and sealed a deal during the hour and half that the trio spent on stage (ok stage may be stretching the performing space a little, but a little imagination goes a long way). There may have been a heavy bias to the most recent album, TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, recorded in the close vicinity of Ben's Northern Ireland roots, but just listening and marvelling at the talent on show as the other records were dipped into, shone a whole new light of what The Orphan Brigade have achieved since venturing into the world of curating 'field music for the 21st century. 

Every time I listen to songs from the trio's debut album based on the ghostly surroundings of an old Civil War residence known as Octagon Hall in Kentucky, thoughts go back to 2016 and taking a detour off I-65 on the way back to Nashville from attending the Forecastle Festival in Louisville. Result, Monday was the day this tourist attraction closes. Never mind, when in Kentucky next is ironically mused! To remind me of that time and that album, the guys paid tribute with tremendous versions of 'Pale Horse', 'Trouble My Heart (Oh Harriet)', 'I've Seen the Elephant', 'Sweetheart' and 'We Were Marching on Christmas Day'. All perfect reminders to what a fine album dropped into the inbox back in 2015. 

Although we had some detailed descriptions and observations of The Orphan Brigade's second venture in the depths of subterranean Osimo in Italy, memory restricts to just two songs shared on the evening - 'Alchemy' and 'Flying Joe'. As the second is the finest track on HEART OF THE CAVE, and the owner of possibly The Orphan Brigade's most fascinating story, it was a case of job well done and further proof that the band are masters of the catchy singalong as well as the interpretative deeper material. 

The bulk of TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD made the setlist from opening shots of 'Under the Chestnut Tree' to Neilson doing his best John Prine interpretation on 'Captain's Song (Sorley Boy)'. Maybe the choir from Ben's old school in Glenarm didn't make an appearance, but the power of songs such as 'Mind the Road' transported all the way from the Emerald Isle over the water to England's second city. 

Concluding thoughts on seeing The Orphan Brigade live ranged from wasn't Joshua's mandolin playing breathtaking, you would have to travel a long way to hear better vocal harmonies that what was heard tonight, to despite the obvious charismatic presence of Ben Glover as the centrally positioned lead, this is 100% a balanced equilibrium of musical chemistry. We already knew that Neilson Hubbard was more than just an exceptional producer when he occasionally hits the front like with his solo album of last year, but we now have first hand evidence of his musicianship prowess.

Orphan Brigade IV? don't bet against it, indeed pile your money on. This trio are far from done regardless to where the solo plans lie. Another location will need to be found, but vast treasures await in countless places. We trust The Orphan Brigade to uncover them, present them and hopefully bring the fruits of another venture back to premium listening venues on this side of the pond. Over to you guys, a patient loyal and dedicated crowd awaits.