Monday, 13 July 2015

Michael Weston King and Michael Cosgrave (Songs of Jackie Leven and Townes Van Zandt) - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Sunday 12th July 2015

The immortality of song is no more highlighted than when sadly the great architects are removed from us far too early. While centuries ago the old folk songs were passed down the line by word of mouth, at least Jackie Leven and Townes Van Zandt lived in the era of the multi-dimensional recording. It is not uncommon for a post humus surge in popularity and appreciation, with a lengthy list of protagonists too numerous to mention. Perhaps free of the demons which inhabited his life, the presence of Townes since his untimely passing in 1997, continues to thrive leading ultimately to influential status. He is a must listen-to artist for every aspiring songwriter wanting to move and shake in country, folk and Americana circles with an infinite capacity to dig deeper for the eternal sad soulful song.

There may have been a vast ocean between their lands of activity, but while Jackie Leven also departed too soon, he also left a massive vault of legacy-laden songs which will keep the spark going for many years. The highly personal link that connects both songwriters is one of the UK’s most sincere and scholarly practitioners of roots music with a country tinge in Michael Weston King. Along with multi-instrumentalist Michael Cosgrave, who had a long association with Jackie, the two have paired up for an initial couple of nights to share the lyrical and melodic talents of these gigantic influences of song driven music.

For a combination of reasons, Michael Weston King had a longer and more productive relationship with Jackie, but there was a sense during this Kitchen Garden CafĂ© show that a shorter liaison with the genius that is Townes Van Zandt was the greater legacy of this mini, but intense, recollection of their work. Maybe this observation was heavily biased towards a far more familiarity from my perspective of the work of Townes and admittedly the key motivator towards adding this show to a busy itinerary. However two hours after the two Michael’s left the stage, the awareness of Jackie Leven was lifted tenfold, while the angle which viewed the work of Townes reminded those present that there is far more to explore than the usual volley of classics that merely represent the surface of his work.

The first hour of the show was dedicated to the work of Jackie with Weston King’s vocals working in divine cohesion with the guitar, piano and accordion of Cosgrave who chipped in with occasional comment as well. Having appeared at the venue on numerous occasions before his death in 2011, there was a sense that this well attended show was frequented by many of Jackie’s fans and the selection of songs ranged from the popular ‘Main Travelled Roads’ to slightly hidden albums tracks such as ‘Ireland for Losers’. In his usual slightly dry delivery, Weston King paid many humble personal respects to his late friend including a stark reference to his style as ‘Celtic soul’. With the perfect segue, the first half closed with a song Jackie penned for a Townes tribute album called ‘Townes at the Borderline’, ironically a project where the invited practice was to cover one of his songs, but the true song writing maverick had other ideas.

If you want to listen to an intense collection of Townes tribute classics then Steve Earle’s album of a few years ago simply titled TOWNES is your port of call, although there is no substitute really for listening to the man himself. Having supported and worked a little with Townes in the early 90’s, Michael Weston King steered clear of the obvious path for this hour long mutually pleasing bout of self-indulgence. The much covered ‘Tecumseh Valley’ and the overtly energetic ‘White Freight Liner Blues’ were probably the two most popular songs played as stories of their brief but ever lasting relationship was punctuated by some of Townes more obscure numbers. This included two tracks from Townes 1994 final studio album NO DEEPER BLUE in ‘A Song For’ and ‘Lover’s Lullaby’. The tribute extended further in the collaborative world between Weston King and Van Zandt with the song ‘Riding the Range’, written by Michael but honourably covered by Townes, being featured. Among the many highlights of this second half stooped in sheer melancholy was the morbidly sad ‘Maria’ representing Townes at his darkest finest.

Many thanks to Michael Weston King and Michael Cosgrave for serving up this memorable evening of enlightened music and stories which was an enthralling experience for us audience members. Apologies for this feature being a little Townes Van Zandt heavy, but the work of this great song writing visionary is an integral part of any country music education at whatever point you acquaint yourself with the genre. Full respect also lies with the body of Jackie Leven’s work and with this marker down you never know where your personal musical adventure heads next.

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