There is hardly a truer representation of the coined phrase ‘show ‘em don’t tell ‘em’ than when it comes down to the country credentials of Jaime Wyatt. Those of us won over by the release of her mini album last year have had only a brief wait to catch the live format and she looked every inch the ‘walking/talking’ country song. There are no blurred lines when Jaime clambers to spill out her calling and act out a narrative, which is candidly real. Flanked by a band assembled to step up to the challenge, the mission to turn Tingewick Village Hall into a honky tonk heaven was not going to falter due to a lack of stage fervour. Ceremoniously pitched with fellow American artist Beth Bombara for this inaugural UK tour, the contrasting pair effectively turned the show into a twin bill, and whether folks were taking a punt or in the know, any remnants of disappointment long evaporated into a dreary and cold Buckinghamshire night.
Rationalisation was a viable key to this tour in terms of musicianship as our headline names were joined by four sharing musicians representing cross Atlantic communities. English guitarists, Joe Coombs (lead) and Mark Lewis (bass) were the core of Jaime’s travelling band, while multi-picker Samuel Gregg from Nashville Tennessee travelled with Beth to dish out some bottleneck and slide amongst other distinguished playing. Kit Hamon on percussion, like Beth a fellow Missourian, was the hardest working musician all night, never leaving his valuable place in the driving seat. Towards the end of this splendidly comprehensive show, all six shared the spotlight to frolic in the camaraderie of touring.
There are a number of distinct differences between Jaime and Beth, albeit both on the spectrum of classic American music. While Jaime’s staunch country stance is unmistakable, Beth prefers to slip into a pivotal Americana position of drawing upon influences of rock, folk and country. Her latest album MAP & NO DIRECTION was definitely in the former class, while some of her earlier material (sampled for the first time this evening) had more than one foot in the latter. After a start where all parties are feeling for the right channel, the set sparked into life with the familiar tones of ‘I Tried (Too Late)’ from the recent album. There was a distinct change to the vibes when Kit switched to bass for ‘Thunder and Rain’ making it a three-pronged electric attack with Beth and Samuel. This country leaning song and an informed protest number titled ‘Promised Land’ that closed the set were both from a 2015 album. This demonstrated the depth to a back catalogue. This also showed the value of touring to supplement an individual album release from afar, which sometimes can get lost in the malaise of apparent infinite competition. Additionally, Beth provided some opportune moments to share her own guitar talent to add fuel to the notion that there is a lot more to come from this artist.
As expected, Jaime treated us to the entirety of FELONY BLUES, an album that courted praise from far and wide for its genre exclusivity qualities. Starting off with ‘Wishing Well’, each of the seven tracks came over with a similar panache as the album version, with perhaps an enhanced emotive feel to ‘Misery and Gin’ and added backstory to ‘Wasco’. For those, whose only gripe with the album was its shortness, the good news is that #2 is on the way. ‘By The Way’ and ‘Ain’t Enough Whiskey’ offered some advance insight and substantial reassurance that her position to at least value the past is firmly in place.
Three covers did a lot more than just pad out a set. Merle Haggard’s ‘Branded Man’ is a shining light to Jaime’s approach to music and a daily inspiration of how afflictions can be turned into positive art. While this song sealed the whole California/Bakersfield appreciation, which is ably reflected in Jaime’s music, the opportunity to celebrate Waylon Jennings through the classic ‘Lonesome On'ry and Mean’ was gift wrapped for the band to ramp up the playing. Lead guitarist Joe Coombs was in imperious form all evening, starting from joining Beth for her Dylan cover ‘Blind Willie McTell’ to sharing some sizzling solos in true country style in the main set. A name we could be hearing more of in certain circles in the future.
There was room for just one song in the encore and Jaime reserved this to extol the pride in being asked to join a select band of artists to record a lost Waylon Jennings number. ‘Here’s to the Champion (Muhammed Ali)’ was perhaps not the normal content you would associate with a legendary outlaw, but the more you think about it…
Just seven days from staging a Courtney Marie Andrews show in Oxford, Empty Rooms Promotions showed their absolute value to a live music scene that is beholden to those who relentlessly champion it. Whether we call it country, Americana, folk rock or singer-songwriter, artists such as Jaime Wyatt and Beth Bombara are probably more important to its vibrant future than browsing your High Street music store for Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. Let them into your musical sphere either through their records or through seeing the live show and substantial rewards will freely flow.