Worry Dolls, Will Robert, Emma McGrath The Borderline
As the saying goes, "good things come in small packages", and that certainly is true of Emma McGrath, ( no relation to Catherine and in this case the th is silent) who was the opening act tonight, appearing with just an additional bassist for company. She may only be 17 but released her first EP in late 2014 which is frankly quite bewildering given the quality of it. She is quite a striking figure with hair covering one eye, and as she opens with "Lifeline" it is immediately apparent that despite her small frame she comes with a big voice, and a style that builds up an atmospheric mood. the delivery of the final line "Don't leave me left behind" was quite touching.
The next song "Off The Wall" again created an impressive soundscape with her style of playing. It was time to dispatch the bass player for the next tune, playing solo, "Butterfly", a random title apparently, was a combination of a slightly rap style delivery matched with a chorus built for a future audience singalong once she is a household name!
In a bout of modesty she then moved to the piano announcing she was not a piano player before doing a perfectly serviceable job to these ears. It was the first of two songs on the piano, the second one "White Lines" ( no not the Grandmaster Flash one! ) was another sonic soundscape that perfectly complemented Emma's voice. It was back to guitar for her final song "Love You Better" where the slightly jazz style delivery in the verses was matched by her most immediately poppy chorus of the set. Not sure which area Emma will eventually move into but feel fairly certain this is a name we'll all know in the years to come.
Will Robert took to the stage for a quick soundcheck and immediately moved into the first number that rather annoyingly was not the first song on the setlist that tantalisingly had been left in front of your reviewer for most of the evening. So it was "Built A Boat" that kicked things off for the guitarist who traveled from Cambridge, ably supported by cap wearing electric guitarist Olly, and a bass player Mike who also doubled up on keyboards. With his normal drummer unable to make it, Will was also to provide most of the percussion either by stomp box or tapping various parts of his guitar. The forthcoming single "Sidelines" was definitely catchy and the next song "The Better Of Me" had a nice electric guitar riff running through it.
"Lessons" the single from early in the year saw Will adopting a hitting the guitar approach as opposed to actually strumming it, which proved effective. Will's songs are easily accessible and his time on stage passed pretty quickly despite having to battle the scourge of the Borderline, the background chat. "Easy Way Out" and "City Lights" about his home town in Pembrokeshire were both good tunes while the superior pop sound of "Best Laid Plans" which came replete with another snazzy electric guitar riff closed out an entertaining set.
If you load the debut LP from the Worry Dolls "Go Get Gone" into itunes, under genre it says Country & Folk and for some this seems to cause a problem, Too folky to be Country, too Country to be folk, it should not really matter as these are quality harmonies attached to a cracking set of tunes. They've written with the likes of Jeff Cohen and Jess Sharman as well as being to knock out their own rather marvelous creations - that should be enough to please anybody. Personally I've always been charmed by their spirit and the sheer joie de vivre they display when playing.
The latest Worry Dolls tour commences on the back of exceptional news, an AMA nomination for "Endless Road" being the best song of 2017 and tonight sees them playing with a full on 5 piece band comprising of Pedal steel, fiddle, drums and double bass.
Things kick off with "Trains Leaving" about leaving Nashville and immediately there are big smiles Zoe with her banjo while Rosie affecting her own shuffle dance. Their sound could not fit the term Americana better, it's a bit of everything, take "Don't Waste Your Heart On Me" which starts with just a gentle banjo intro. The full band sound really kicks in on "Bless Your Heart" where they provide a bigger warmer sound but not at the expense of the vocals which remain high in the mix. There is thumping drum intro to a new song "Tidal Wave" which is an immediate hit and bodes well already as to the vein of writing form they are currently in. It is followed by a trip down memory lane for the sassy "Long Gone" about standing up for yourself from the "Burden" EP
The thing that instantly drew me to the Worry Dolls was a show at the Slaughtered Lamb where they outlined their plans to give up their accommodation and make a concerted effort to make it in Nashville. It is retold in the "Things Always Work Out" which comes with a lovely harmonica intro. The next song is the result of that effort, an AMA nomination with Jeff Cohen for best song of the year "Endless Road", then. in another flashback we have a glorious "Be So Cruel" on which the pedal steel really shines through in the mix. "Someday Soon" is a complex song where the verses remain relatively quiet with the change in pace at the chorus really emphasizing the"I promise you" line.
In "Light Oh Light" there are starring roles for everyone ,excellent drumming, great fiddle work as well as spectacular vocals that evolved from a day of being uninspired. For "Passport" the song is introduced as being "not very nice" which as the chorus says "I've been played". When they announce towards the end that "this means the world" you have absolutely no doubt that they are being sincere. With one final burst of harmonies in the encore of "Miss You Already" there is nothing else to say but the feeling is mutual, let's do this again soon.