Friday, 24 April 2015

Aoife O'Donovan, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz - Biddulph Town Hall, Staffordhire. Thursday 23rd April 2015

Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt may have sold more records when they got together for their TRIO project and The Highwaymen were certainly more advanced with their careers, but surely there cannot have been a purer collaboration of three independent artists than the one witnessed this evening at Biddulph Town Hall. Born from an impromptu performance at Telluride Bluegrass Festival last year, the combination of Aoife O’Donovan, Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins represents the cream of 2015 traditional revivalists, easily finding common ground to share their natural ability to sing, play and make beautiful music. Billed as the ‘I’m With Her Tour’, this celestial choir showed a glimpse of roots heaven in a 90 minute sonic shower free of any musical impurity.

In consecutive years all three have added an elegant sparkle to the Transatlantic Sessions roadshow, an effect magnified to sublime proportion when taking full possession of the centre stage. The slick manoeuvre between solo, duo and trio was blessed with magical harmonies and an innate knack of wonderfully blending the stunning vibes from fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitar. All three solo careers were celebrated alongside a preview of the future and a respectful nod to the past.

This civic venue at the edge of the Staffordshire Moorlands was nearly full to its seated capacity with folks willing to make lengthy journeys to experience this precious gathering. It didn’t take long for the ladies to get into their stride with a version of John Hyatt’s ‘Crossing Muddy Waters’ kicking off proceedings. The rotation of songs took the standard format for these shows with alternating lead vocals flowing into a solo segment and all being strategically bound with spellbinding moments of delectable unison. This climaxed with all three stepping off mic for a perfect closing version of the Emmylou Harris gospel number ‘Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn’.

Sarah Jarosz is still riding the crest of a wave from her recent Grammy nominated album which formed the basis of her hugely successful UK tour last year. Her prodigious talent has produced many column inches buoyed by the banjo and mandolin prowess flavouring a wealth of beauteous songs. ‘Build Me Up From Bones’, ‘Runaway’ and ‘Fuell the Fire’ were amongst her offerings this evening, all served with classical undertones adding finesse to popular tunes.

Aoife O’Donovan made massive strides as a solo artist with the release of the 2013 album FOSSILS, having spent a number of years as an integral member of Crooked Still. Guitar is her chosen piece of instrumental accompaniment in true folk tradition, seamlessly adorning a glorious vocal style radiating tones of aesthetic appeal. ‘Beekeeper’, ‘Red & White & Blue & Gold’ and ‘Captain’s Clock’ were the highlights of Aoife’s individual contribution, but the real soul of the evening existed within the collaboration.

Sara Watkins nonchalantly overcame brief technical difficulties to just unplug the fiddle and play it with a composed charm. Her increasing reputation as a prime fiddle player, both in solo projects and as a member of Nickel Creek, is well deserved and being positioned so close to such a breath taking demonstration was a joy to behold. Songs primarily sourced from Sara’s lead contribution included ‘You and Me’, ‘Be There’ and ‘Long Hot Summer Days’, all leading the way in popular attraction. Of course the essential instrumentals were filtered in periodically and Sara delivered her tune ‘The Ward Accord’ in fine style.

The chemistry and sheer enjoyment from the stage was evident for all to see, making this one special concert to attend. A further development from the evening was the revelation of an intention to record which is a prospect to savour later in the year. A new song believed to be titled ‘Hornets’ was introduced by Aoife and matched up favourably alongside a couple of exceptional covers unearthed by the trio. These were ‘A Hundred Miles’ by Gillian Welch and a Jim Croce song ‘Walking Back to Georgia’.

Eventually Aoife O’Donovan, Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins will resume their own burgeoning individual careers, but not without leaving a major mark as one of the truly great American roots collaboration projects. The promised recording will create a souvenir of the magic, but the ultimate pleasure was being in the presence of three fabulous musicians sharing their treasures in divine portions.

No comments: