THE STRAY BIRD + Kari MaCleod, JUMPIN HOT CLUB @ CIVIC THEATRE GOSFORTH 10/11/17
Lancaster, Pennsylvania American folk country roots four-piece The Stray Birds were captured in full flight when they performed in front of a packed house at this fine venue.
The Stray Birds are made up of multi-instrumentalist Oliver Craven and the likewise adept Myra de Vitry plus Charlie Muench on upright bass (he too was brilliant) and tucked in the back additional drums (Shane Leonard I believe) anyway whoever he was, he did great work
Apart from de Vitry showing a likeness, especially on the slow measured ballads to Gillian Welch later in the evening on the electric side of the band’s music, they reminded me, favourably of Donna The Buffalo. Entertaining to the core.
Such the energy bounced off one another, bassist Muench and Vitry & Craven (boy, didn’t he put in a shift and a half as he performed on electric guitar, a little slide included, fiddle and acoustic, and he also sang a mighty lead) people couldnt help but noticing, the inspired harmony vocals that likewise galvanise & bounced off each of the unit. The acoustic only segment was most impressive, and it came at a point when they band had become a little bit predictable, but with a continual thread firmly back in place they got better & better
After 90 minutes non-stop entertaining they were as fresh and sharp as at any time during the evening when it came to calling it a night. Among those that impressed most, as Craven and Vitry exchanged roles as lead vocalist and source of songs the standard was set good and early as “Working Hands Of A Man”, “Heavy Hands” and ever popular “Best Medicine” had the ensemble hit stride.
As the evening progressed and the interplay stage banter blossomed the band were all showcased on “When I Die”. Backed by appetising hints of Cajun (and it wasn’t the only time their music wandered farther afield) “Sabrina”, plus with choppy rhythm and tasty slide guitar “Radio” was another to add to the list of highlights . Encore song “Third Day In A Row” had Craven arguably better his own seemingly set in stone benchmark vocal. What a talent.
More than adequate support came from Scottish-born, but locally based Kari Macleod and sideman Tom (tenor guitar). Her fiddle work was razor sharp and with her distinctive and appealing vocals the unassuming act delighted the audience with songs that were in the main about various family members. Who still live up in Northern Scotland, and were brought to life in such songs as “Maggie Dreamed” and “Arms Of The Brave”.
Maurice Hope words & pic ( group pic - Sid Carne)
ANNA & ELIZABETH + Rhona Dalling - JUMPIN’ HOT CLUB @ CLUNY2 NEWCASTLE 02/11/2017
Old - time traditional fare, learnt either through searching through music’s archives or from friends, the young American act Anna & Elizabeth certainly brought something different & warm to the Cluny2 and Jumpin’ Hot Club on a cold early winter's evening.
With Elizabeth performing on banjo, guitar and fiddle to go with vocals and Anna (who learnt some of her work from Ginny Hawker) digging deep on both lead and harmony vocals and banjo, and operating what for many folks was a ‘first experience’ of seeing a Crankie in operation.
What is a Crankie you may ask ?? Well it is a hand-operated contraption that on loaded with a picture roll, serves as a movie screen. The highlight of the evening was when all lights were turned off, and it was seen in all its glory. Magical.
With the paper screen illuminated, the story of childhood friend “Miss Lella” was sampled, in both spoken word and pictures. Anna carefully wound on the roll as Elizabeth played fiddle and both spoke of the old lady’s life and the bygone times in which she lived. You could not fail but be intrigued, and impressed by the duo’s ingenuity and the captivating fashion they led the audience through the songs.
Talk about a surreal experience, this one certainly fit the bill. Looking like they had either come from the prairie or wheat fields of Kansas without bothering to change clothes, the girls charmed the audience with a studied entertaining set.
From opening piece “Goin’ Across The Mountain” on through the likes of the above noted, “Miss Lella” and old favourites among followers of the traditional mountain music “Don’t Let Me Die In The Storm” and “John Of Hazelgreen” (like a good many songs of the idiom it is know to some under another title) this really was first class entertainment. Such was the continuous inter-change of instruments and vocal permutation the audience never knew what to expect next, other than it was set to be good.
Anna & Elizabeth’s thirst to ensure the old songs of West Virginia, North Carolina and Appalachian mountains and of small communities isn’t lost won a place in my heart. The image of Elizabeth bobbing up and down as she played her acoustic guitar and the girls harmonising, and of course the star of the gig, the Crankie will remain with me for a long long time. May my wait to see them again be short. For their encore they walked among the audience to perform. At which point, Elizabeth rushed off to their car for the merchandise people demanded.
Opening the evening was local act Rhoda Dalling. A huge talent in the making, she played exquisite fiddle and claw-hammer banjo in enthralling fashion. Streamlined into old scratchy North Carolina fiddle tunes and Appalachia based-tunes in general her efforts dovetailed nicely. Rhona Dalling’s finest included a version of Cahalen Morrison and Eli West’s “My Bloody Heart”, and with her speaking highly of the duo and Morrison’s latest venture, Western Centuries there’s no doubting the young lady has excellent taste.
Maurice Hope words & pics ( Sid Carne -Rhona pic)
JESSE DAYTON + Sour Mash Trio @ JUMPIN’ HOT CLUB: CIVIC THEATRE GOSFORTH 27/10/17
Texan Jesse Dayton (lead electric guitar) and band members Chris Rhodes (acoustic, electric bass) and Kevin Charney (drums) blew in, tornado style, on their very very long awaited ( 11 years - ed) return visit to the area. All pumped up he was in the mood to sweep the floor with all-comers when it comes to whole hearted, honest fromhis head to the toe of his scuffed biker boots. Jesse's knowledge and links with real country music was put to great use as he plucked a few chestnuts from the country tree to go with his own colourful compositions.
He was soon dripping sweat and performing like his future depended upon it as he regaled the audience with tales about George Jones back when he lived up to his title of No-Show Jones (due to the lure of alcohol etc), and he even sang a song or two in the fashion of the Jones boy. Without I hasten to add threatening the latter. But, could anyone match Jones’ version of the “Grand Tour”? However, his heart, and he has a big heart iscertainly in the right place, and with the band and himself playing some fantastic music it was a good night for live music & dancing Texas style.
Pulling on over twenty years of recording, Jesse Dayton, had his heart nailed to the mast via the likes of “Well, Daddy Was A Badass”, and “Holy Ghost Rock N Roller” and with a nod to a man he used to play with, Waylon Jennings via the Billy Joe Shaver song “Lonesome On’ry And Mean” we saw a mighty kick propel from the stage.
There were many,actually nearly every song worth dwelling upon but in the likes of “3 Pecker Goat”, and in memory of George Jones “Possum Ran Over My Grave”, “Mrs Victoria (Beautiful Thing)” and one that kicked the gig away “Daddy Was……” you had something very special. Oh, and there was an energised version of Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta” that enjoyed a magic of its very own. With one major song following another,& non-finer than a bolt of lightning piece “I’m At Home Getting’ Hammered (While She’s Out Getting’ Nailed)” There isn’t much he hasn’t given his attention to and been better than good at . So good was Dayton’s hot-to-go guitar work, come the night’s encore he played some of the finest licks on his guitar after we thought we had heard him at his very best! It wasn’t only because he slipped in a little of “All Over Now” either! Music for some is simply a livelihood, but with the likes of Jesse Dayton and the boys it’s a way of life. Nothing was held back, as music lovers both on and off stage partied. Give Dayton another Jameson or two and he may well have played all night!
Support came in the form of The Sour Mash Trio, and as ever they never let anyone down. Quite the opposite, because they provided a few fireworks of their own. Country and rockabilly walked hand in hand as leader James Stephenson sang his usual array of impassioned drinking songs peppered with other jollities about murder and prison. Pride of place goes to his very own “Drinking And Carrying On” and “Drinking For Two” as ever, they won the approval of a supportive audience. What a Great venue too !
Maurice Hope - words & pics
An Evening With WILLIE NILE - JUMPIN’ HOT CLUB @ LITTLE THEATRE GATESHEAD 20/10
If a man ever knew how to entertain and simultaneously rock a venue to the core, New York-born and bred singer-songwriter Willie Nile is the man ! Armed with an acoustic guitar, a piano off to the side the stage & supposedly an intimate solo affair, and part of his Storyteller tour ...It still was intimate, BUT Willie had an ace right up his sleeve: in the form of electric bass player and good friend, Johnny Pisano with him as he looked at some of his finest creations.
We had another addition, although not in person but we had the songs of Bob Dylan. His spirit circled the venue as Willie tendered a bunch of songs from his recent tribute album " Positively Bob". It wasn’t just the songs, and there certainly was an avalanche as he dipped into those he has penned over the last forty years, but Nile’s ability to engage an audience to the degree, like the brilliant Pisano had them in the palm of there hands
The genuinely moving piece House Of A Thousand Guitars had the place rocking, as he held the audience in awe , and soon after clapping and singing along to his music as dancing was witnessed in the isles!
When it came time for him to sit at his piano ( his first instrument - said Willie), just sitting there alone, and Pisano grabbing a well-earned break, Willie Nile told more stories of lifetime experiences.. Poignant and stronger, emotionally he served up a tale of emigration with "The Crossing as" he paying homage to those who came to America to help make it the country USA has became. His song really caught the imagination.
Rock’n’roll pumps through Willie Nile’s very veins, like coffee does to many people on a morning. You only need to mention a song or artist and he becomes energised. Music isn’t so much a way a livelihood with Nile, but a whole way of life, the touring, writing and performing.
Maurice Hope- review Juan Fitzgerald pic
SHANNON MCNALLY + Little Mo Trio - JUMPIN’ HOT CLUB @ Studio in LIVE THEATRE NEWCASTLE 18/10
New York-born, singer-songwriter Shannon McNally possesses one of those strong "pure as a mountain stream" voices that immediately make contact with one’s ear's. Her effortless tones vibrated around the studio room on numerous occasions as she shared songs from her latest album," Black Irish" and lots more. On walking on stage she warned her audience of how she has a tendency to talk too much, and she didn’t disappoint with some great stories either.
Among her anecdotes, and general introduction of what she has done over the years Shannon had a pop at superstars Taj Mahal and John Mellencamp. Whom she claimed never spoke to her while she toured with them. Then again, how many of us have enjoyed mixed feelings when we have met our own special heroes! (agree- ed)
The negatives out of the way, she strode forth with the aid of mercurial guitar playing side-man Bret Hughes, who can make a guitar talk, and wasn’t bad on harmony vocals either. Among her finest efforts, apart from a fine cover of Rodney Crowell’s “You Make Me Feel For You” McNally eased through songs of close friends of his in the late Susanna Clark’s “Black-Haired Boy” and what was a much deserved encore, Townes Van Zandt’s “Poncho & Lefty” before she melted into the night.
Though little known to most people, Shannon has not only recorded a handful of records but a tribute to the great Bobby Charles whom she knew well. This was used as part of her introduction to a Louisiana inspired “Duck So Sweet”, and though good it could not hold a candle to arguably the best vocal song of the evening “All My Wasted Time”. Her sharply cut lyrics were only a week old, and hugely evocative. She came near to matching it on Robbie Robertson’s “It Makes No Difference”, it was here her real worth was best utilised. McNally's smouldering impassioned tones brought fresh life to the song. It was the only slow burner of the evening as “Banshee Moan” and a pleasing version of Pops Stables’ gospel favourite “Let’s Go Home” likewise enjoyed space in the set..With her knowledge and contacts in New York State, Texas and Louisiana I expect more wonderful songs to be at her disposal the next time around.
Support came by way of the Little Mo trio; with stellar upright bass (Neil Harland) and most tasty acoustic guitar (Gary Dunn) lead vocalist Little Mo put on a mighty opening performance. The latter’s playing was as close as it gets to exemplary. Little Mo’s powerful vocals live and breathe the blues, and with her understanding of the heritage and the music steeped in the art the audience hung onto every nuance of her emotion charged set. Her take of the Elvis Presley associated “Hound Dog” and Billie Holliday’s “God Bless The Child” stayed with me long after the show.
Maurice Hope - reviews/pics
RICHARD SMITH + Josh Harty - JUMPIN HOT CLUB @ LIVE THEATRE ( Studio) , NEWCASTLE 13/10
Guitar virtuoso Richard Smith is not only an outstanding musician, but is also so wonderfully entertaining. It would be hard to imagine anyone having the ability to engage an audience in a greater manner than the British born –now Nashville resident. Smith’s affiliation to jazz, country, blues, classical, pop and stage music is not only a nicely balanced one, but as his performance underlined, one where the listener is never sure what he'll play next.
Unafraid to take a chance with an audience, the happy go lucky Smith and his guitar took the audience through a bunch of classic compositions. While as I said , you never knew what he might do next, it could be assured a great tune from Jerry Reed, or something inspired by the equally incredible Nashville legendary picker and producer, Chet Atkins.
It was in fact, a Jerry Reed tune he started with, and though good, pure and melodic it was later in the show when he upped the gears& where Smith captured my imagination fully. This was when he added vocals to an otherwise mainly guitar only performance with a song from another guitar master, Merle Travis. A man some claim to have been the greatest ever! Smith’s choice of “So Round, So Firm, So Fully ” written by Travis about his wife could not have been a better choice.
With no set schedule Smith jumped, with ease from the likes of “Cheek To Cheek”, Fats Waller’s “Lulu’s Back In Town” to the love tune “Killin’ Me Softly” and ever popular (and funny) “Elma Terl”. It was thrill a minute fare.
Others among his full set, you had a fun version of “Tennessee Waltz”, the western ballad “Streets Of Laredo” and just when we thought we had heard, and witnessed the best Richard Smith could offer, a request came in for “The Watkins Man”. By now curfew time had passed but there was no way the audience were to be denied. The old adage of keeping the best to last could not be more apt!
It was a night not only for fans of guitar either. For singer-songwriter, North Dakota-born Josh Harty though a less dramatic performer showed himself worthy of sharing the bill. Unhurried, the hard working well-travelled support act showed his worth as a songwriter via the mighty “Whiskey & Morphine”. With a feel of small town life and space of the prairie, a folksy feel slid into place, plus you had a rather neat story concerning his father (preacher, local sheriff) it was a superb package! His songs “Holding On” and “World Of War” likewise produced a bunch of stark evocative images of much merit.
A wonderful tunesmith, and storyteller it is easy to see why Harty toured the UK six times.
Words& pics Maurice Hope
An Evening With SLAID CLEAVES JUMPIN’ HOT CLUB @ CLUNY2 NEWCASTLE, 05/10/2017
Americana-singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves made a welcome return to the area with Danish electric guitarist M.C Hansen and put on a master class performance. Hansen’s spare & sparse playing gave the songs exactly the correct amount of playing; Cleaves though well established in Austin and influenced by music of the Lonestar State (western swing yodelling master Don Walser etc ) he hasn’t forgotten any of his New England roots either.
It was during his teenage years Slaid forged a friendship with fellow singer-songwriter Rod Picott, a regular co-writer . The latter is as blue collar as they come while Slaid is more into talking about people and places of recreation. Pulling on self penned & co - written songs from the best part twenty years old and of course more recent collabarations , especially those that figure on his latest album “Ghosts On A Car Radio” the packed audience enjoyed one of the finest shows I have witnessed by him.
Interacting, from the start with the audience he told stories of Beer Taverns, family friends like four-times married ‘Willie’ (“Horses”), playing music in the garage with his old pal Rod Picott and the aforementioned "Pavarotti Of The Plains" Don Walser. To whom he wrote the song “God’s Own Yodeller” Yodelling fans, and there were some in the audience who had never ever seen Cleaves live before, actually had not one but three songs containing snatches of the fine art. For apart from the two mentioned above he also performed a sublime version of Don Walser’s composition “Texas Top Hand”.
Cleaves’ earlier gigs at the Live Theatre and Cluny 1 have long been part of the Jumpin’ Hot Club’s folklore, and while this was a first at Cluny2 theatre it won’t be his last if he has anything to do with it. Like with most all the ‘smaller venues’ of the area he’s played, he gave it the thumbs up measuring Cluny2 to the famed Horseshoe Lounge back home !!
Warming up nicely for the first 40 mins set, Cleaves and Hansen then electrified the stage, with their second set feeding off the audience who were on the edge of their seats so to speak. Praying that their favourite tunes might be performed.
One of the attributes Cleaves possesses is a pure entertainer , apart from his genial talent as a genuine storyteller whether reflecting the crowd down at the ”Horseshoe Lounge” or evocative tales written with Picott of “Broke Down” and “Rust Belt Fields” he also has impeccable diction. You will go a long way to find one better.
With so many treasures in his war chest, Cleaves had to leave some out; he could easily have done a gig the next night and not repeated one tune. As it was the easygoing performer thrilled the faithful withthe requested “One Good Year” and his tribute to some of country music’s true legend via “The Old Guard”. MC Hansen was generously given stage time by Cleaves to perform a song, and he took the opportunity with both hands. His clever arrangement as he accompanied himself on guitar, and sang “Sins of Your Father”; in part a cappella style was something else.
The standing ovation they received on saying goodnight as Slaid walked through the audience, was no more than they deserved. Talk about shows to remember- this has to be up there!
Maurice Hope - pics Damien Wootten & Juan Fitzgerald
Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards @ Live Theatre ( The Studio) - Thurs 28th Sept 2017
A very unusual live review from Helen McCookerybook, the support act for the above has been posted on her link here
Danny & The Champions Of The World + William The Conqueror @ Caedmon Hall – Sat 16th Sept 2017
Some shows work like clockwork, other’s prove very testing for band & promoter alike for instance, Danny & Champs, Saturday night gig at Caedmon Hall. Their van broke down on the way there & as a full throttle six- piece band on tour with lots persons & full backline the J”Hot Club’s emergency crew vessel (Kev Daly’s van & Sid’s car) was launched & successfully got them to venue & eventually on their way the next day. All this of course made it a bit hard to do a co-ordinated sound check but just getting the gear there & them on stage took priority.
So after support William the Conqueror trio made a jolly decent noise to open up & also in doing so impressed a good size crowd, Danny & The Champs waltzed on stage with not a care in the world & thus began a 20 minute blues rock jam. A chap alongside me said “Are they always this rocky” & I said only if their van breaks down...He thought I was mad…
But it was a good start & also a good racket to get the sound sorted. After a short meander tune the band were in full swing now for their catchy white soul / rock n roll sound with Danny belting out like a happy Van Morrison & the band really cooking on gas & enjoying themselves. You may not know this but every Thursday night these Londoners have a bit of a get together/rehearsal as friends should do. Only they sometimes record their practice with Chris a hot producer and the Bass player.
Anyway, out of this they had a full triple album’s worth of material, which they condensed down into a new double album “Brilliant Light”. Most of which was aired here. Sing-along’s like “This Is Not A Love Song “ Waiting For The Right Time “ & the bitingly good “Gotta Get Things Right ” sat alongside the mid tempo ballad "Coley Point & the guitar-led “Just A Game” all sounding more rollicking live. My favourite track of the evening was "Stay True" with the lines "the stars in your eyes that dream in your pocket never stop building that old space rocket " It really hit the spot. However time wasn’t on their side & the curfew came as a big surprise to both band & audience. Not to worry though as while the house manager was tidying up in the hall, Danny was serenading fans by the outside merchandise table on his acoustic guitar as a proper finale. What a splendid end to a very enjoyable evening
Juan Fitzgerald/Shippy - Juan pixs
THE RAINBOW GIRLS + Elsa Cross JUMPIN HOT CLUB @ CLUNY2 NEWCASTLE 14/09/17
California band, The Rainbow Girls though now trimmed down to a trio, hit Cluny2 on their second European date & no lack of energy was lost as the threesome won everybody’s hearts with a fantastic show.
You would have to travel far & wide to experience a more accomplished and unique vocal act than the diverse, ever-innovative & very hard working Rainbow Girls.
Formed seven years ago in Santa Barbara, and now living in a big country shack (see pic on new album) up at Bodega Bay in the rural environs of Northern California, Caitlin Gowdey, Erin Chapin and Vanessa May just live & breathe music.
Eclectic, and at times nicely off the wall, all stops were pulled out. They played mostly material from their new and said to be unavailable until November except at tour gigs “American Dream” which certainly sounds easily there best ever album .
Among the finest and most entertaining efforts you had “Song For Standing Rock”“The Folksinger’s Contract” & especially "Do Not Go Gentle"which sounded a little like early Be Good Tanya’s plus one song they generously wrote for a member who left for pastures new. .. The ‘girls’ numbered five.
Though their harmony vocals were heavenly, it would be wrong to over look the quality of the girls’ lead singing too > As for that matter, some hot accomplished acoustic guitar picking" 39 Green Lights". On the likes of title track “American Dream” the guitar playing was especially tasty; plus some tidy slide guitar was witnessed on "Something Ive Been Meaning To Say
The audience were happy when called on to give vocal support to the very soulful “Can We Keep This Love Alive” and a terrific cover of The Chiffons (another all-girl act) 1963 hit “One Fine Day”; as the girl’s crowded around the one microphone to place their own quality stamp on the doo-wop classic.
They have a great natural rhythm and an easy ability to produce fine harmonies that placed a great big smile on the face of most of the audience throughout the whole evening. Through hard work they both connected with the subject of the songs and hearts of all present. Prior to the all-girl trio, Austin Texas resident singer-songwriter Elsa Cross and inspired fiddle player Eddie Dickerson showed off their own capabilities. Elsa Cross’ excellent guitar and vocals were spiced by the latter’s constantly busy work with the bow. It was of little surprise Eddie lists fiddle legend Vassar Clements (plus local Austin favorite Erik Hokkanen) among his playing influences as country, folk and jazz strains were all utilised.
Elsa’s folk country transmitted strongly on a country drinking song and a new tune from a rock’n’roll album she’s working on plus “Make Use Of Your Time”. Another to catch the attention was a song that gave mention of a cold grey morning as Elsa spoke, excitedly, of the above impending record and the noted personnel involved (the drummer had worked with David Bowie and Iggy Pop no less).
Plus you had, what for me was their finest tune, in a rousing version of traditional folk-mountain ballad “Miner’s Prayer” that closed their short set. It seemed they were just starting to hit their stride and feel at home. I don’t think we have seen the last of this promising duo.
Maurice Hope - review & Elsa pic - Damien Wootten Rainbows pic
LANGHORNE SLIM + Tony Bengtsson JUMPIN’ HOT CLUB @ CLUNY 2 NEWCASTLE 28/08/17
Pennsylvania-born and raised, Langhorne Slim brought his unique brand of singer-songwriter fare to the Jumpin’ Hot Club. A fantastic entertainer, Slim enthralled the audience with his endless stories and his philosophy of life, and his make up of the world. Immediately he set foot on stage he had the undivided attention of the audience andof course he knew it.
Slim remained sat on his stool, apart from the occasional teasing snatches of him standing that took the audience on a magical journey. Picking his acoustic guitar and telling stories about his roller coaster life in the intimate setting produced the best of this rare talent. His journey through his life hasn’t always been an easy one, but with the dark and often uncertain days of addiction behind him he has become more at ease with the world.
His best songs were about plain everyday trials and tribulations. About growing up, when his brother and him were mainly looked after (and loved) by their grandparents and other relations after his parents divorced when he was but two years old.
Grandma May and Grandpa Jack figured early in the show. The audience could not get to know enough about themeither.. Likewise, was the case with his other grandparents, and his grandfather in particular that was behind the compelling “Song For Sid”.
Drinking copious amount of water Slim hit the spot with his love and caring for people. He is very much the workingman’s hero. He was in good voice too. Sounding better than I had previous heard.Slim after slipping behind on ratio of songs per story time he closed his show with an avalanche of quality songs. Among the most memorable songs during his ninety-minute set you had “Ocean City” closely followed in the popularity stakes by the requested “On The Attack” (the lady who requested the song actually sent an email requesting ten in total. Now there is someone who knows Slim’s music..!) plus “Changes and “Wolves”.
Famed American poet James Kavanaugh inspired the latter. Slim even read a page of his writing as he spoke about the meaning of life through his eyes. Few stones are left unturned when it comes to getting the lyrics to be right and his songs to make their greatest impact. Langhorne Slim is one of the unspoilt treasures on the American music scene, the fact people left the venue with both a big smile on their face and a glow in their heart spoke volumes for what he gave, and so freely.
Support came from the ever reliable, and ever improving Tony Bengtsson. He kept things fresh and the show moving with his humour, excellent vocals and high quality lyrics. Although I have now heard his work quite a bit recently he never fails to come through with stellar versions of the likes of “Shame” and “Wrecking My Own Life Again”, they are the kind of songs I never tire of hearing, and when played like they were tonight, never will
Maurice Hope words & pic - Damien Wootten (colour pic)
BRENNEN LEIGH – NOEL McKAY JUMPIN HOT CLUB @ OLD LAUNDERETTE DURHAM 24/07
After seeing Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay impress as part of the bluegrass quartet High Plains Jamboree at the Jumpin’ Hot’s outdoor stage at this year’s SummerTyne Americana Festival it was ... a must, that I go see them in the wilds of Durham, again as a duo.
Why, because they are the best at what they do! Texas-born Noel McKay and his partner North Dakota-born Brennen Leigh are both incredible songwriters. They also know exactly what is needed, even when the other introduces a song of their own. Their ear is a monitor (analogue of course) as they litteraly dovetail together. Brennen’s love of the old ways, farming and country tradition is a delight every time she puts pen to the paper.
For her part “John Deere H” and “Steam Threshers Reunion” were treasures. There were others too high on the list as they spoke of “Sleeping With The Devil” a “Garage Sale” and of a “Fiddle In The Wall”. Plus from a tribute album that Brennen recorded of songs associated with the great Lefty Frizzell, “Before The World Was Made” rounded off their first set in perfect style.
Performing in such an intimate and unique venue that had lingerie hanging in the window and a well-stocked bar plus, washing machines with boxes of old washing powders perched on top for company- you had to be there to absorb the vibe.
It was like they were sharing their music with a bunch of old friends but always in a professional manner. After the Lord Mayor’s Summertyne show, performed in front of die-hards in the rain, there was no sign of hangovers or washing day blues (from either side of the fence). Far from it as the duo picked up the baton & won.
Brennen Leigh, especially never allows her eyes to wander when she’s performing as she ensures the music and song’s lyric are always the focus. While a couple of tunes were in their infancy, the level of excellence never wavered one iota.
Noel McKay was likewise immense as he shared “Don’t Poke The Bear” with a duet about a “Great Big Oldsmobile” and another prime piece of material “Change The Oil”. Plus a song he wrote with fellow Texas troubadour Guy Clark “El Coyote”, actually THAT SONG is timeless in more ways than one, for it speaks of one of the many tragedies suffered by Mexican illegal immigrants trying to gain access to the United States of America.
People will be still talking about this , way past any TV show or You Tube video, because this was real live, organic unamplified music performed as sharp and beautiful are you could ever wish for.
Both artists also played choice acoustic guitar with some mandolin thrown in for good measure. The harmonies were as ever sublime, and they even had their washing done by the host while performing ( collect at half time of course) . It wasn’t a bad night’s work for the affable couple; who are honest as the day is long in more ways than just music.
Maurice Hope review - Juan Fitzgerald pics