Saturday, March 23, 2019

Gig Review - The Southern Companion "Shine A Little Light Tour" at Kitchen Garden

Surprisingly, although I have heard Darren sing at a songwriters round, I have not previously had the chance to hear his band The Southern Companion, so for me this was an eagerly awaited (rearranged) date

After the acoustic opening I settled back to enjoy this six piece band, artfully crammed into the intimate Kitchen Garden Café

From the first three words from Darren’s mouth I immediately thought “Springsteen” – that slightly gruff country/rock sound, but then you realise that whilst Darren sounds a bit like Springsteen, he sounds mostly like Darren!  

As a contrast to the stripped back openers, The Southern Companion’s louder, well balanced sound enveloped me like a warm hug – as does Darren’s singing.
The underlying style is that of the classic American story teller, genuine feelings of real life where you feel that you can see the story rather than just hear it, again evoking comparison to Springsteen, Billy Joel, Phil Vassar which befits Darren one being described as “To Country to Sing Blues”.  Whatever label you want to attach, Darren and the band are simply genuine

Although the tour is to launch/highlight the new Album “Shine A Little Light”, we were treated to songs from across the full spectrum of the Bands earlier material, and even from Darren’s previous (Blues) band.  The title of the Album comes from the song “Can’t Get There From Here”, as Darren himself described it “Its important to be god to each other. Instead of covering them in darkness. Shine a little light”.  This is very much  reflected in Darren inviting a range of local artists to support the tour in different venues. 

The first single off the album was “Songbird” which is a beautifully emotive song, influenced by his daughter’s first day at school – and being a husband and father is a theme throughout Darren’s song writing. Despite being about a father's fears the song is upbeat, but perhaps that's how it should be - worry but be outwardly upbeat and positive

Can I Get a Witness” opens with just keys and Vocal, really highlighting the quality of Darren’s voice, the lap steel underlines it as the song builds, by contrast “Already Gone” was performed with three guitarists all combining their instruments and voices for a powerful beginning before the drums, keys and lap steel joined in

Can’t Get There From Here” felt like a showcase track, certainly has the power to be a title track and really demonstrated all six musicians combining to produce that Southern Companion sound

Track 1 on the album “Billy’s Brother” will really hook you in from the start, but for me the whole evening hooked me – from Darren’s voice to the team behind and around him, and the song writing that has produced this album
In a world where musical careers are based on a gladiatorial thumbs up, a big red cross or a chair spinning round, a hard working band like The Southern Companion deserve success. Three albums in, proper musicians coming together to produce a fabulous balanced sound performing well written songs reflecting real life.

The Southern Companion's new album “Shine A Little Light” is available now, and should already be in your collection.  If you’ve missed this tour  you can catch the boys rocking the main stage at Buckle and Boots this year on Sunday evening – I’ll see you there at the bar!

Rik finally got to see the band - and now has the album on repeat

Gig Review - Demi Marriner, Robbie Cavanagh and Gasoline & Matches In The Round (as support)

To the Kitchen Garden Cafe Birmingham for The Southern Companion - where the opening act was a songwriters round...

I’ve written before about Songwriters rounds and about opening acts – and this was a combination of both!  Supporting the Southern Companion on their rescheduled date were two of the power couples of UK Country – a bit of a Double Date according to Steve Marks – but to only describe them in those terms does them a great disservice.

On the left side of the stage were two singer songwriters who happen to be a couple but are skilled writers and performers in their own rights.  Robbie Cavanagh and Demi Marriner sang new songs for us, some of them written together and some older songs but they do combine with Demi singing backing for Robbie, Robbie accompanying Demi on guitar which demonstrates that their similar vocal styles combine beautifully.

Having previously only seen Robbie perform with his full band it was a delight to be able to really focus on his voice and style, listening to him sing his song “Fare Thee Well Letter” (a really emotional song!) his voice was reminiscent of some of the great male songwriters from the 70s – think Jim Croce! 

Demi and Robbie came together again at the end of the set to perform “My Grave” from their sampler EP “This House” which gave the chance for Demi’s voice to really soar as they sang individual parts rather than just harmonies.  A beautiful song which deserves inclusion on a future album, but I think they will have to fight over who gets to release it!

While one pair gave us newly written music, on the right hand side of the stage we were treated to newly recorded music by Gasoline and Matches
Sally and Steve also combine their voices and guitars to a stunning effect, with their style being more on the rock side of country – powerful vocals with quite stunning guitar.  

Following up their debut EP, Gasoline and Matches are in the studio putting the finishing touches to their first album, featuring tracks that have become absolute favourites at their gigs, including the regular song writers round that they host in this venue. New tracks include “Patient Wolves” which went almost straight from writing to recording and the very spirited “Smiling Viper
Tequila’s A Healer” became a three-part harmony, as Demi joined in with the “I Love You”, a demonstration that there is no line between the performers, and voices can combine, even briefly, to great effect!

With new music coming from all three, and all performing at festivals around recording commitments we have plenty to look forward to – and perhaps some more double dates too!

Rik attended this one to write the review and be the awkward third wheel in the corner....

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

EP Review - "Unfinished Business" Katy Hurt

I first encountered Katy at Nashville Sounds in the Round a few weeks ago, performing an acoustic songwriter set with just her guitar and the occasional accompaniment from Steven Marks of Gasoline & Matches.  I was captivated then by her voice, but to now hear her with a full band is another revelation.  The Band call themselves “The Healers” (see what they did there!) and the playing really complements Katy’s vocals giving an authentic country sound

First track on the EP is “Drink” – a “girl in a bar” song to contrast with all those “guy in bar” songs!  Much like an argument you know you are going to lose, the song starts slow and soft, but once the drums kick in, the tempo and the vocal pick up and you know you are in trouble!  You are lulled into a false sense of security with the almost Katie Melua style singing, but the more Katy gets defiant, the more Dolly Parton she sounds!  This song is a girl standing her ground, and it really sounds genuine!

With a dreamy start going straight into a soft vocal, “Natchez” is a song about separation, about missing each other, regrets...but she had to go, she knows inside she had to go. You can really feel the story behind the song, and the emotion is really amplified by a powerful, soaring vocal just before the song ends.  I want to know the backstory, I want to know if she stayed away…I want it to last another 4 minutes 12 seconds….

In a total contrast, “Revved Up” kicks off with a big guitar intro into a solid country beat and a vocal to match that bass line. It is very modern sounding girl country but with a huge nod to the traditional – if that makes sense!  Truly showing the less soft side to Katy, with her powerful singing voice really coming through.

Probably my favourite track on the EP, and already released as a teaser single, “See Ya Later” lifts the tempo again from Revved Up, but this time in a more pop country, pacy and downright fun way!  Based on an incident from a party, it is a song about kicking a guy to the kerb after just his first approach.  You can’t listen without tapping your feet – and having a little sympathy for the guy who hit on the wrong girl!

The title track of the EP, “Unfinished Business” brings the whole package together. It is a song you really want to stop and listen to – which is why Katy wrote it.  It feels almost autobiographical, and it comes from a singer songwriter who is a self-confessed lover of the Country Genre’s storytelling tradition and a way to express feelings and emotions through song. Having listened to the whole EP while writing notes and the review, this one stopped me dead in my tracks – and went straight onto repeat. This song is pure emotion, pure song writing, and pure singing all wrapped up into four and half minutes of magic. 

Overall you feel that Katy is a powerful, self-assured Country girl.  She knows her mind, she knows what she wants – and I know she will go far!

Unfinished Business” is released on 22 March and can be pre-ordered now from iTunes

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Gig Review - Demi Marriner (as Support) O2 Academy Birmingham

If you're going to a gig, go early and catch the opening act!

I made a trip to the o2 Academy in Birmingham on a windy Wednesday night to catch Elles Bailey on her current tour – but also to see Demi Marriner playing the opening set.  Demi is well known on the UK scene and can often be seen supporting other artists either with her full band or as a solo performer

The Academy 3 is a fairly intimate room with a capacity of 250 and a fairly small stage, which was already set up with all the instruments for the 5 piece headline band.  When Demi came on, just a girl and a guitar there was a danger that she could be a little lost amongst all that kit but her voice, her music and her personality were more than strong enough to grab the 30 or so people in the room

The opening song was “Stay” – a mournful song, apologetic in its lyrics but still catchy – in fact most of Demi’s songs have a catchy chorus, so by the end you are singing along as though you've known the song for years, even on a first listen

The set consisted of songs from the EP “Dandelion”, the EP “Tales” which was recorded on just one microphone and some new songs – one only a week old!

It feels as though we are supposed to always label the genre of an artiste, but with Demi it isn’t straightforward.  She is quite Country, quite Americana, sometimes bordering on Bluegrass with her final song “Sins” and some of her performance is very much in the style of the classic female singer songwriters – think Beverly Craven, Julia Fordham, Judie Tzuke – although her snakeskin boots do scream country!

Working through her songs – “One Way Conversation”, “Sunday Morning Alone” (with some very high notes showing Demi’s range), “What Am I Doing Here”, “Distorted Desire” “Cold Coffee” Demi displayed increased confidence talking between songs but still with that trademark humility whenever she gets applause, with her quite shy “Thank You Very Much” each time, but when she sings you can really feel how confident she is and how much she loves her songs and singing them.  
We were treated to that brand new song “Little Boy” which had a really country theme – advice to the newest baby in the extended family, from the previous youngest family member, dedicated to her new baby cousin

Demi is currently quite busy supporting various tours, but will shortly be back in the studio recording new music – and then we can hope that she will be taking centre stage where she rightfully belongs on her own headline tour

Catch Demi on Facebook, online, on tour(s) or just buy her EPs and enjoy her music

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Song Review - "Already Written" Jess and The Bandits

The song “Already Written” has a message of hope, that with patience all will work itself out encouraging you to look to a better future, and this has subsequently mirrored  in Jess’s own personal life with a marriage and baby since the song was written

In Jess’s own words

I actually wrote this song 4 months before I met my husband. If you asked me in that writing session if I thought I’d ever meet someone and be married a little over a year later, I would have put money down that I wouldn’t. It’s funny how quick life can change. Also proof that our stories are already written, we just have to be patient! That’s the hard part! But usually things exceed your expectations!”

The band’s line up has also gone through changes, with a new set of bandits bringing a new energy and chemistry to recording and lives shows

“It was exactly what needed to happen to allow JATB to be the band that it needs to be and the room to grow the way it should.”

A very simply performed song with Jess’s simple but beautiful, gentle tones, accompanied by three guitars blending as if one, and the bandit’s voices blending in subtle harmonies, and an almost there, but “just enough there” snare drum underlining the melody.

Where to listen – on the windowsill watching the rain with a warming mug in your hand. 
When to listen – when you feel you need some reassurance

Jess and The Bandits can be found on Facebook, Twitter, at home with the new baby and looking to the future.

Francesca wrote this review - she is a fan of Jess, and Jess is a fan of Francesca!

Friday, March 8, 2019

Song Review - "Seven Minutes In Heaven" Bailey Tomkinson

Bailey Tomkinson’s new single “Seven Minutes In Heaven” is released today, and it is fitting that we get new music from Female Country singers on International Women’s Day

The powerful opening drum and guitar underline the Taylor Swift/Kacey Musgraves inspired  vocal and giving a slightly “influenced by” pop country feel. 
The song has an American sound and American theme although her roots are very much Uk and Europe, Bailey lists a very wide range of influences on her music, and I wonder if American movies are an influence on her themes!

Seven Minutes In Heaven is a teen love song – in that it is a song about “Teen Love” – which we all know is true love, right? The vibe is certainly bouncy and summery – you can almost feel the sunshine as you listen to it!
Give Seven Minutes In Heaven a listen, and if it doesn’t transport you to heaven, it will definitely transport you to summer!

Bailey Tomkinson can be found on Facebook  and by a pool, in the sunshine….

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Song Review - "Don't Let Go" - Binky

Musically, this song opens with slow piano, the voice comes over the top with that wonderful country warble to it and the guitar solo works so well, a true guitar break, with drums taking us upwards back to the vocal

Emotionally, I had no idea what to expect from this single, but the moment the vocal started I not only fell in love with the voice, but I suddenly, on a busy day, felt relaxation just wash over me.

In this song Binky is telling her partner that their love keeps her going, is what she needs and doesn’t want to lose

It’s a slightly different style of country love song as it is actually about a current love – and through the words, through the emotion, you can really feel and almost see how much she is in love, and so happy with the love. It’s the love we all want, comforting, supportive, protective.

It’s the love that you Don’t Let Go.

Best listened to at the end of a day when you want to relax, best performed in a small, smoky club to an appreciative audience, who will all snuggle a little closer to their partner. As a DJ, I can see this as a wedding first dance, it has all the emotion and feeling that a first dance demands.

This is the song, that when performed as part of a set will make you stop and really listen – and you’ll be so glad that you did

Don’t Let Go is available to download now, and the video is available on youtube 

Find Binky on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and on a beach singing about how great love is!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Gig Review - Keith Urban in Amsterdam

Crowds made their way to AFAS Live on a windy evening on 4th March for C2C Amsterdam, which was more locally promoted as a Keith Urban concert. The usual check shirts, jeans and cowboy boots could be spotted amongst a few Stetsons, wrangler shirts but generally more casual dress.

Drake White opened the main stage (Black box). His characteristic spoken style with a twang launched into full song supported by his band, the Big Fire. Drake is from Alabama and like he says they like to crawl, twist, jump and spit; he was certainly energetic moving around the stage. Even when standing still he has a tendency to twist his left leg. Drake explained that the band had to put on their superhero capes and put 10lbs of you know what into a 5lb bag (his father's expression) to make the gig, driving 6 hours after their flight from Berlin was cancelled.  Slight problem with the sound initially but the guys blasted "the demons" away. The set was upbeat, with the crowd was clapping along and the boys even lined up for a boy band guitar swing. An excellent set, if too short (30 minutes) with Drake back to his old self with motivational yet realistic songs. 

Between sets the crowd headed to the second smaller stage (Beat box) which was promoted as 'Introducing Nashville, Discover current artists from Music City'. Set up as a round, first to perform were Lindsay Ell and Lauren Jenkins. Both talented musicians and vocalists who are not unfamiliar with the stage. At the next interval Logan Mize and Craig Campbell kept up the excellent performances, with Logan even getting a volunteer to help him out, holding his harmonica.

Next up on the main stage was Brett Eldredge in a dodgy looking jumper. His 1st time playing in Amsterdam and only his 2nd visit to the city. There seemed a mutual appreciation for each other as Brett described how walking around the city inspired him to write, a bicycle image on the large screen lead into the song “The Long Way” The crowd followed Brett's request to hold up their phones to replicate fireflies, an image he recalls from his past. 

Something I'm Good At” showed off Brett's amazing vocals, holding onto those notes in a way that rivals the top female artists. With an explanation that the rush of lyrics was done to simulate the feeling you get on a rollercoaster. 

Ian on piano (keys) helped create the image of a Smokey bar, for a surprising rendition of 'My Girl'. Brett finished with an inspiration message that you just needed to stick with it, he had been successful moving from Paris, Illinois to Nashville and was now at C2C. 

The crowd were on their feet as Keith Urban took the stage and that's where they stayed throughout. The set Keith showed off his stunning guitar skills and golden hair with those classic hair flicks. 3 songs were sung before he engaged with the crowd: “Never Comin Down”, “Days Go By” and “Coming Home” but total respect at his attempt at speaking Dutch, he also accepted a flag from the audience and displayed it throughout the set. 

Keith introduced his band members: Danny Waygo (the Phantom) on electric guitar, 6 string guitar and lead locals, "the guy in the funny ass hat", electric guitar and vocals, Jerry Flowers, and Seth Rush on Drums. 

Carrie Underwood appeared on the screen so that Keith could sing “The Fighter”, the crowd took over her part giving Keith time to travel through the crowd to a stage set up at the back of the room.  From here he thanked the audience for their hospitality and in order to leave a lasting musical gift, he gave away a signed guitar. 

“Blue Ain’t Your Colour”, “Stupid Boy”, “Long Hot Summer”, “You Look Good in My Shirt” were all in there but Keith finished with “Wasted Time”, but of course he came back for an encore: “You'll Think of Me” followed by “Horses”

Despite negative comments on social media relating to the organisation, poor floor management and a lack of catering C2C Amsterdam will be back next year and hopefully the music will be equally amazing!

Tot volgend jaar. (see you next year)

Friday, March 1, 2019

Gig Review - Kevin Dempsey and Joe Broughton

One guitar, one mandolin, one violin, two talented musicians and a rendition of Postman Pat. What more can you need for a night out? The venue was the quirky little Kitchen Garden in Kings Heath Birmingham, and the musicians were a mostly folk duo of Kevin Dempsey and Joe Broughton.

I was in two minds about where to post this review, but when you listen to some of the traditional folk songs, and the way they tell stories, it is clear that English Folk and Country music have a shared root that is easy to see with some of the UK country artistes

Joe Broughton is familiar to me as the leader of Birmingham Conservatoire’s quite stunning Folk Ensemble, but as a duo of 20 years these two have a stunning history of their own – having played with Fairport Convention, Mary Black, Joss Stone, Percy Sledge, Bellowhead and many more.

The evening opened with a cautionary tale “Wicked Polly” originating from the Ozarks which served to set the tone of songs from around the world, a casual setting and the way that Kevin and Joe perform and interact, with Kevin on vocals and guitar and Joe alternating between fiddle and mandolin

Not all the offerings have words, our next two were instrumental only, with Joe accompanying at one point with a wonderful display of pizzicato violin playing

We were treated to a long and very involved story about Kevin trying to trace a particular 17th Century English song which was laugh out loud funny especially when it transpires that the song is actually rubbish so he doesn’t perform it! Instead he sang “Pride of Kildare
In true folk style the singing is almost mournful in style, and the fiddle comes in as almost a second “voice” giving that truly ethereal folky counterpoint to the guitar
It was then time to pick up from the “folk misery” into an Irish reel when the mandolin came in to replace fiddle – and all through the evening foot tapping is obligatory, and practically unavoidable.

Kevin comes across as a serious musician albeit with very light-hearted tales), while Joe never seems serious, but is seriously talented and clearly enjoying himself. Watching Joe, he clearly “plays with joy” and never seems to actually have both feet on the ground!

Joe told us for the next song – specially written for an Italian radio show – that he would only play two notes on the mandolin.  There were in fact others, but those two notes were incredibly effective.

As Joe tuned up his fiddle, Kevin told us the story of setting the poem “The True Story of Resurrection Jack” to music, but instead our duo played a folk inspired version of the theme to “Postman Pat”, accompanied by many members of the Folk Ensemble lustily singing every word!

The first half ended with another uptempo foot stomping, fast fiddle and guitar song, leading to the question – when is it a fiddle and when is it a violin?

Kevin opened the second half with a solo rendition of “Leaving in a Hurry Blues”.  The guitar intro was utterly mesmerising and throughout the song I was not sure whether to focus on voice or guitar, opting to let the combined sound just wash over me.  The set continued with “Two Stick Mountain - here the banter between Kevin and Joe felt like an old married couple – clearly a pair of performers comfortable with each other after 20 years performing
Finally we got to hear “Resurrection Jack”, followed by a sing along soul song “You Must Believe Me”, then the story of a film score they have composed “Los Cojones” (They tell the story of the film far better than written word can convey) which featured a very classical/Spanish guitar style from Kevin.

The finale was a “whirlwind worldwide medley” but this was not enough for the audience, so after a very unconvincing “stage exit” the night ended with “Until next time”(But don't forget there might not be a next time)” - a title which works far better in Italian. For this instrumental piece the violin is very much singing the lead, so you can almost hear the words…

The evening wasn’t *just* folk, it wasn’t *just* a duo – it was two very talented musicians playing with joy, enjoying sharing their music and enjoying being in an intimate, relaxed setting.

Watching this performance, you can see where the Folk Ensemble get their infectious performing style from, and it was a joy to see traditional and original folk music effortlessly blended and performed. Look out for this pair – they are sure to be around for a long time to come!

Rik went along and wrote this one

Song Review - Look What God Gave Her - Thomas Rhett

Look What God Gave Her is the first track from the upcoming album Centerpoint Road which will be released on 31st May 2019.
Another co-write with his famous father, Rhett Akins as well as Julian Bunetta, John Ryan and J Cash. He co-produced it with Bunetta and Dann Huff and it is a song that celebrates his wife.  In his own words 
"The song really is a celebration of how awesome my wife is. She’s so beautiful, but at the same time she’s inwardly beautiful, she’s funny, she’s kind, she’s the best mom I know … and she’s hilarious". 

It is an upbeat tune, with a heavy drum beat from 10 seconds in but the focus remains on Rhett's voice. It is easy to listen to, the lyrics are slightly repetitive but very easy to follow and can be quickly learnt. It is distinctively "Rhett". which sadly for me is more pop than country.  If you like Unforgettable, then I'm sure you will like this. 

Thomas Rhett's new single "Look What God Gave Her" is available for download on all platforms from 1 March

Francesca listened to the first play and wrote this