Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Red Sky July - The Musician, Leicester Tuesday 7th October 2014

How do you follow up producing an album that flirted with perfection before nestling in the upper echelons of your music appreciation? Well just short of releasing its successor to equal acclaim, which on this occasion may not be too far away, taking it on the road and showing its excellence is far from confined to the studio  is not a bad option. We may have been short on full band production but when you are blessed with the two part harmonies of Shelly and Charity held together by the majestic guitar skills of Ally, the captivating songs from Red Sky July’s second album SHADOWBIRDS had little difficulty in making the transition. The transformation of Leicester’s established Musician venue from rock pub to intimate listening parlour added to the aura of a performance frequented by a respectful and appreciative gathering.

In what was an evening defined by quality over quantity, the trio quite rightly decided to major on the recent release which was played almost in its entirety. Perhaps we needed Jack Savoretti to bound on stage and sing his part on ‘Any Day Now’ but they wisely decided to put an alternative version on hold. However the rest of SHADOWBIRDS sparkled and flowed with several anecdotes and observations showing the record in a new light. Is it possible to listen to ‘New Morning Light’ again without a feel for the joy Shelly is sharing in Ally’s recovery, while an enlightening awareness of ‘Renegade’ metaphorically painting the canvass of a Cormac McCarthy novel turned this haunting tune on its head.

The latter heralded a brief fiddle interlude from Charity, although I’m pretty sure that she and Shelly will bow to the prime musical steering stemming from the dual acoustic and electric artistry of Ally McEarlaine bringing all the experience of his many years at the heart of Scottish rock band Texas. Not that the background of his wife Shelly and Charity (surname Hair thus the sole non-McErlaine in the trio) has been short on success and their sweet vocals comfortably smothered around both their own compositions and the selected works of others. These included recently aired social media versions of ‘Hey Brother’ and ‘Take It to the Limit’, along with the delightful ‘The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA’, one of a handful of tracks lifted from their self-titled debut release.

With Shelly extolling the virtue of an album carefully track ordered in fine precision, the closing number of SHADOWBIRDS ‘Solitary Woman’ shivered your senses in a similar way that ‘Made for Each Other’ exalted heart melting qualities. ‘Losing You’ has been a rapidly evolving progressive track from the record and although its stripped back version significantly altered the sound, the mesmeric nature of the melody refused to lower the effect of tantalising your listening genes. Maybe the light hearted closing version of ‘9 to 5’ was a touch out of sync with the ambience of the evening but by then the die was cast and this fine album had successfully completed its fulfilling journey from studio to stage.

Prior to Red Sky July showing how a UK act can make a great record absorbing all that’s special about country, its alt compatriot and Americana flavoured music, a four piece band (sadly reduced to three on the evening) under the name of Mr Plow opened proceedings with their take on the self-described ‘ugly side of Americana’. While struggling without a lead guitar, they left a dark but prominent imprint on the evening in a style not short of conviction and belief in the quest of their mission. Sad songs reigned supreme for half an hour before Red Sky July demonstrated a more balanced view of the human emotion.

Shelly McErlaine, Charity Hair and Ally McErlaine are well on the way to cementing Red Sky July as a key player on the UK scene. Since their support slot to Beth Nielsen Chapman in the early months of 2014, the trajectory of their career as a trio has grown steeply upward. This Leicester show crowned the joy derived from many repeated listens to SHADOWBIRDS and attention now excitingly turns to what next.

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