Saturday, 25 October 2014

Zoe Muth - Wightman Hall, Shrewsbury Friday 24th October 2014

‘I’ve got the finest record collection that you have ever seen’ boasts Zoe Muth in the final throes of what is one of the most clever and cutting songs written in the last few years. However the finest record collection wouldn’t be complete without a Zoe Muth recording and a memory library of live performances will have a great hole without seeing Zoe and her band in full flow at least once. The UK are having a second opportunity to catch one of her live shows and the good folk of Shrewsbury heartily supported an artist with an intuition to follow the right path and tap into the soul of real country music.

The song referred to in the opening paragraph took its rightful place towards the latter stages of the evening and while Zoe introduced it as about the theme of being broke, ‘If I Can’t Trust You With a Quarter (How Can I Trust You With My Heart)’ can also be interpreted as a song about conditional love. Either way it was a centre-piece of a set which Zoe surprisingly focussed more on her 2009 debut material than the new record but there has been a consistent thread of quality throughout her work in a short but increasingly acclaimed recording career.

On an evening where the vocals were pitched just perfectly above the sound of the band, it was the sum of the four piece combo Zoe has assembled since moving to Austin which proved the key to the success of the show. With a minimum effort, the chemistry and timing between Zoe and her lead guitarist Eric Hisaw and bassist Sean Jacobi was a musical pleasure to savour. We must not forget the heroics of the unsung drummer and Zoe truly acknowledged her longstanding percussionist Greg Nies. Knowing when to move around the scale, the fine balance between the slower songs such as ‘Starlight Hotel’ and quite a rocked up version of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Lungs’ was perfectly tuned. There was perhaps a Friday evening tilt towards the more upbeat songs and for once a constant buzz of noise from the rear of a cavernous venue added a small touch of authenticity to an artist now plying her trade around the joints of Austin Texas. 

The pick of the songs chosen to entertain a sizable audience, apart from the obvious highlight, included the stand out number from current release WORLD OF STRANGERS, ‘Mama Needs a Margarita’, a gem from her first album ‘You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying’ and pre-encore belter ‘Hey Little Darlin’’. Without the fine detail of song knowledge, satisfaction was in plentiful supply by just kicking back and taking in the artistry of a hot tightknit band and a vocalist born to sing the sad country song in a distinct and original way.

While Zoe is very much an excellent songwriter cutting her cloth back in her home state of the Pacific North West’s Washington, the evening’s support act were a group of young local guys out to have a good time singing a host of classic country and Americana songs rather well. Two-Faced Tom and the Bootleg Boys to give them their distinctive name came across as dedicated followers of a great tradition, hailing Hank Williams, interpreting the work of Ernest Tubbs and delving deep into the history of American music with a version of ‘Midnight Special’. It was the perfect warm up opening set and the guys would surely have learned a few tips by hanging around to watch Zoe and the boys.

Since Zoe was introduced to UK audiences via Bob Harris a handful of years ago, interest in her has been growing. The move to Austin has worked wonders for her sound development and the 2014 stage show blossomed with poise and confidence. Many people know that the spirit of real country music has ebbed away from Music Row and a little bit surfaced in a young Seattle girl with a yearning to write songs. Today that young girl proudly stands as a consummate real country music performer and it was a delight to finally see Zoe Muth live in the UK.

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