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.