Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Session Americana - Hare and Hounds, Birmingham. Tuesday 27th October 2015

Listen to their records, read their bio and now see their live show; the conclusion remains the same as it’s virtually impossible to pinpoint the sound of Session Americana. Either way, this six-piece fluid combo from Boston Massachusetts presents an impressive mix of memorable songs and engaging musicianship. All this occurs in a unique formation literally creating a ‘session’ environment where three band members share a single mic whilst sitting around a table with the others positioning themselves in a huddled arc. This intimate lounge-like stage atmosphere fitted in well with the Hare and Hounds smaller music room as the band continued their latest UK tour to promote the new record: PACK UP THE CIRCUS.

Whether you consider the Americana music genre an amalgamation of roots styles or a state of mind, these guys fit the bill as they hot foot around a nation’s songbook within the context of a historical timescale. A bunch of original tunes wrapped in a packaging of fiddle, harmonica, and accordion plus numerous other types of stringed instrumentation filtered through a pair of forty-five minute sets this evening to induce a posture of intense focus from those present. The set list spanned the group’s near decade-long recording career with the usual focus on recent material found on the exceedingly entertaining new album.

A curious feature of the stage show was the constant switching of the middle position on the central table in contrast to the flanked roles of harmonica player Jim Fitting and fiddle player Laura Cortese. What was also consistent was the rotation of lead vocalist with all six band members taking turns. This also included percussionist Billy Beard who contributed the song ‘Doreen’, one of many to be found on the band’s several albums. The guys have many other musical offshoots in addition to the activities of Session Americana and two of Laura’s contributions were lifted from her solo records. In fact, the show’s penultimate tune beautifully sung by Laura, ‘Heel to Toe’, was the most enjoyable of the evening with a sparkling concluding jam of fiddle, accordion, harmonica and guitar.

The nearest the band had to a front person was Ry Cavanaugh who had previously visited the UK accompanying fellow singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault, but the focus for the show was heavily leaned towards song delivery with minimal chat and introduction. Ry opened proceedings with the title track from the new album ‘Pack Up The Circus’ and also did likewise after the interval with ‘All For You’. The record was also represented by the excellent ‘It’s Not Texas’, sung and written by accordion and keyboard player Dinty Child. Also lifted from the album was the final song of the first half, ‘Willing To Be Lucky’, and another entertaining ditty in ‘Vitamin T’, given a Latino feel by vocalist and harmonica blower, Jim Fitting.

Jim probably had the strongest voice among the sextet and his harmonica playing added real spice and buoyancy to the sound. He also took lead on the show finale where the band strayed from their songbook and covered the standard ‘Such a Night’, made famous by the version by Dr John and The Band in Scorsese’s documentary ‘The Last Waltz’. Earlier the band had celebrated the Tin Pan Alley sound of 20’s America with a version of ‘You Got To See Your Mama Ev’ry Night (Or You Can’t See Your Mama At All)’. At this point it is timely to introduce the remaining band member Kimon Kirk who shared his bass duties with a couple of lead vocal opportunities, the most prominent being ‘Cowboy Coffee’.

There was no disputing the talent on show and the impressive way all six blended their contributions and assets. It was definitely a case of lower case session Americana as well as the upper cased title version. It’s an experimental phase for these experienced stalwarts of the North Eastern music scene back home to take their music overseas, especially around the UK provinces which can be a tough market to crack. The band and the team around them are giving it their best shot with the all-important musical package firmly in place to aid the challenge of seducing wider appeal. 

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