June 11, 2016
O2 Academy Islington, London
“I’m a Carter girl, y’all!”
When you’re a Carter, there’s no escaping the fact that you’re a Carter. Carlene Carter embraced her history head on with her 2014 album Carter Girl, which she was now in the UK to promote.
The Carter talent was there, of course. She sure can play that autoharp, and delivered a stomping version of I Love You ‘Cause I Want To with a bluesy-country growl. Dare I say that Carlene’s version of Ring of Fire was one of the best I’ve heard.
However, the set highlight was a heartbreaking performance of Me and The Wildwood Rose. As she discussed the deaths of her grandmother, mother and step-father, she balanced private tragedy and public loss: “I felt like the whole world was crying when my momma passed.”
Crucially, Carlene was honouring her family’s heritage, not trading off it. These songs and stories belong to her, and she was clearly well-versed in the family history way back to the 1920s.
She regaled the crowd with stories of her grandmother, Mother Maybelle, speeding at 100 miles per hour in a black Cadillac, and of her mother, June Carter, suggesting that Carlene simply needed to write something a bit like Ring of Fire. Simple! There were, of course, also stories of growing up with Johnny Cash.
When talking of her time living in London decades ago, Carlene mentioned that see-through plastic skirts have a tendency to fog up and mildew. Who knew! When introducing the song that June wrote for and named after Carlene’s daughter, Tiffany Anastasia Lowe, came this unexpected gem: “She [June] had just seen the movie Pulp Fiction, if that helps you understand her better!”
The less tangible aspects of the Carter heritage were equally delightful. Carlene looked remarkably like her momma when hugging the autoharp.
Meanwhile, the interplay between Carlene and her husband/duet partner, Joseph Breen, had that same winning combination of love and humour that Johnny and June shared back in the day:
“Am I supposed to understand your smoke signals?”
“No, you’re supposed to listen!”
::pause:: “Yes, dear”
If you’re lucky, you might just catch the last few dates of Carlene’s UK and Ireland tour. Check her website for details: http://www.carlenecarter.net/calendar/
Danny George Wilson
“I will tune, I’ve found over the years that it sounds a little bit better”
For once, there were more cowboy hats in the crowd than on the stage as Danny and The Champions of The World‘s Danny George Wilson stepped up for a solo set.
Danny’s band is a mainstay of the UK Americana scene – having recently swept the board at the American Music Association UK’s awards show – but he seemed largely unknown to the country contingent out to see Carlene Carter on a rainy Saturday night.
Danny’s entrance was so unassuming that the venue still hummed to background music and chatter as the opening chords of Stay True rang out. Danny soon silenced the crowd as they took in his obvious talent. His earnest, passionate delivery easily substituted for the frenetic performance of a typical Champs show.
With just a touch of self-deprecating banter, Danny powered through the Champs classics including (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket and the award-winning Clear Water. Special mention must go to Danny’s achingly tender rendition of Henry The Van. The set closed to murmurs of appreciation as Danny effortlessly segued in and out of a short cut of Springsteen’s Thunder Road during Red Tree Song.
Judging by the reaction to this accomplished set, there’s bound to be more cowboy hats in the crowd at the next Danny and The Champs show!
“I’m trying to reflect back on my past”
Second support was Steve Young, a session player emerging as a singer-songwriter in his own right. He was ably accompanied by violinist Maria Kroon, until she had to race off to St. Albans for another gig!
Lyrically, Steve’s songs explored relationships yet to begin and those falling apart, often touching on the optimism of dreams versus the colder reality of day. Musically, he had a modern rock sensibility somewhere between John Mayer and Newton Faulkner. Classic rock influences were evident too – Steve covered Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
Steve Young’s debut album, Troubador, is due out on July 1.
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