The task of opening the Front Porch Stage on Sunday fell to Kentucky born Ian Noe, given that the last time we saw him he was relentlessly downbeat this seemed an odd choice however witnessing these songs being sung on a Front Porch actually brought them more to life than seeing them sung in a plush London venue. It did seem that for 30 minutes or so we could be gathered in the Appalachian mountains listening to a passing troubadour.
Make no mistake though, Ian's subject matter does deal with the darker seamier side of life but look closer and these songs are stories full of rich characters. Take the opener "Letter To Madeline", the tale of a Bank robbers final moments as he is surrounded holding the letter to his beloved Madeline that he never got to send. He dreams of making it home but also realises that his predicament is grim. Delivered in what can only be described as a Dylanesque style it remained strangely compelling in this setting
The next song "If Today Doesn't Do Me In" features characters such a hitchiking hobo, and the hard working girl at the gas station who have day to day lives that are incredibly hard but who still harbour big dreams that things can get better. Ian is able to give these folk voices and for those few seconds the girl shifting heavy crates saying "Let me just set these down and I'll be right with you, sir" seems vividly real.
Finding inspiration in the unlikeliest of events, "Barbaras's Song" tells of a 1904 train crash. A slightly faster paced song packed with images that seemed all to real, it was very effective. The next song "Dead On the River (Rolling Down) got its inspiration from Series 1 of True Detective which is as well as Ian takes on the persona of a serial killer for the song! It was extremely atmospheric blending the fates of the victims with the back story of the culprit and the ongoing FBI investigation. It makes the song very cinematic and intensely gripping.
The set continued in this vein dark songs punctuated with occasional light hearted introductions, for "Irene" forinstance, the tale of an alcoholic cousin who once mistook coffee for gravy. As you can imagine Ian's portrayal of alcoholism is completely unsentimental, the picture is both sad and tragic. What turned out to be the final song "I'd Rather Be Over You" had begun in a somewhat upbeat fashion and it looked like Ian had hoped to play at least one more song for on being told that was it, he promptly unplugged his guitar and walked off stage with not a word to the audience. It was a strange end to what had been an unusual but enigmatic set, it certainly made me re-evaluate and appreciate Mr Noe a little bit more.