Morganway / Shelly Fairchild - Little Rabbit Barn
On a warm late summer evening it is hard to think of a better venue to watch a band than the Little Rabbit Barn, combining the intimacy of an indoor house concert with the airiness of being outside in the open. The walls an impressive testament to those that have gone before, and you can but marvel at the names that have played over the years many in their earliest incarnations, including Kaity Rae in 2015 presumably in between her homework assignments! It is a veritable who's who of UK and US Americana talent and a great credit to the booking team at LRB.
Tonight will see two new names added to the Wall of Fame, the first being Shelly Fairchild, starting initially with just an acoustic guitarist Adam Webb for company. At first admitting to being a little nervous she wasted no time in getting the audience participating as she ripped into a version of "Damn Good Lover" from her most recent release "Buffalo". With a borrowed tambourine from the headliners she set about trying to create the feel of the original version, to great success.
We've seen Shelly a couple of times in recent years, once in an acoustic singer songwriter mode and once as a bit of a rocker, tonights version was somewhere between the two, with a set specially tailored for the audience who it would turn out were well aware of her back catalogue.
Adam's role as backing guitarist should not be overlooked, quite often given instructions of how a song should sound he managed each time to provide great backing. For "Muddy Waters", a favourite of Shelly's Grandmother he was able to provide a gentle background that let Shelly lay down a big bluesy vocal. The "Buffalo" album continued to be the source of the opening material, with her version of "Mississippi Turnpike", the first single from the album, with its modern country chorus sounding more like a pop classic in an excellent version.
Shelly first broke through in 2005 and has played with many Nashville greats from Rascal Flatts to Tim McGraw, and it was her breakthrough album "Ride" that would provide some of the more country orientated material of the evening such as the next song "I Want To Love You", a much slower song, with Shelly laying down the tambourine to deliver a more considered vocal with her free hands being used to emphasise each line. It was back to "Buffalo" for "Ready To Fall", a bluesy rocker packed full of Southern references which saw Shelly clicking her fingers as she sung and then gaining a round of applause for vocalising the missing electric guitar solo - great fun which saw Adam and Shelly high five at the end, to show how well it had gone.
For the ballad "Fear Of Flying", Shelly powered out the vocals, especially on the "Fly away fly away" part of the chorus, in a great performance. The number of acoustic guitarists temporarily rose to two with the arrival of Tony Moore, which saw a slight upping of the volume for the slower blues of "Kiss Me" which created a great atmosphere. Tony's arrival allowed them ot play a new co written song "Fire Water" which was extremely promising and saw Shelly take on an almost Amy Winehouse style delivery for the verses. Having played one new song, there was scope for another newish one, as Adam returned to the stage for On The Highway" which as Shelly would say would "Take it up a notch", with Adam clearly loving the speeding up of the chorus and the opportunity to make a little more noise.
The closing numbers when they came were as special as they were different from what had proceeded them. Borrowing Tony's guitar Shelly played the final songs solo. the first "Put Yourself In My Blues" saw the already quiet Rabbit Barn drop to zero noise, even the cars outside chose not to pass as everyone intently listened to each gently picked and beautifully sung note..
Tony was brought back to the stage for the final song only to find that Shelly and he could not find a song that they both knew, and so ever the trouper Shelly took control of the situation to lay down an a capella version of "Crazy". She must have known she had chosen well, as on the mere announcement of the song she was going to sing, murmurs of approval went around the room and by the time she had finished there was a standing ovation for that performance and in appreciation of the whole set.
For Morganway, It was to be another glorious night in a quite outstanding year and being introduced as "currently the best Americana band in the UK" set the bar impressively high for them to deliver on. So far this year they have always been up for a challenge and with the assistance of Felix on sound this was to be another bravura performance.
I'm not sure i've ever heard Matt's keyboard contributions on "Devil's Canyon" forinstance, ever sound so clear, such was the clarity of the sound. The song also saw SJ regain control of the trademark Morganway tambourine while delivering the lead vocals. For "My Love Ain't Gonna Save You", SJ was also contributing on acoustic guitar and the enforced rejigging of positions to allow everyone to fit on the stage gave a rare clear sight of drummer Ed, and it was interesting to see the inventive touches he was putting in while simultaneously driving the song along to great effect, along with Nicole Terry's haunting fiddle lines and the twin vocals of SJ and Callum.
For "In A Dream"(Coming Home), the opening rhythm is cooked up by Callum and Nicole, with Callum at times precariously based under a huge overhead beam, and only a Pete Townsend leap away from a major concussion. The closing section with the five simultaneous vocals over the gentlest of guitars was a sheer joy to behold. The ability of the band to move from delicate to "rawkus" was then ably demonstrated with Keiran's intro into "Let Me Go", the song once again building to a stunning conclusion with the power of 5 voices singing at the same time.
It is impossible to pigeonhole this band, any expectations you have will always be challenged with each performance, the rootsy singalong conclusion to "The First Day", leading onto the reworking of a Red Hot Chilli Peppers song, with SJ once again taking honours on exceptional lead vocals on "Breaking The Girl", though they could equally have gone to Nicole's fiddle playing or Matt's keys which were once again prominent and almost a little psychedelic!
The origins of "I See People" was explained by Callum, a song unusual in itself in that is Nicole's great fiddle line that effectively makes the chorus. Once again the exceptional mix succeeded in really bringing the keyboards to the fore to great effect. The newish album tracks all sounded fabulous "You Can Only Die Once" showcasing Kieran's nimble guitar work and once again some exemplary fiddle playing. News of a Tom Petty cover was met by a lot of appreciative nods around the Rabbit Barn with a cover that was just a cut above the average, with SJ able to deliver tender yet powerful vocals ending on a big note, while the respective solo's from Nicole & Kieran were a suitably fitting tribute.
The opening to "! Want No Other Love" is a slight diversion for the band in that it is a dual female vocal lead opening. It is a song that gradually builds up until it transforms itself halfway through into something quite extraordinary with all parties playing to maximum volume while SJ screams out a phenomenal lead vocal.
The joys kept on coming, the new song "Across This Land" with its quirky vocal chorus then led into what is surely a Little Rabbit Barn staple song "Jolene", though given the Morganway treatment it comes out deliciously brooding and menacing, SJ more threatening than begging her not to take her man. It comes replete with a batch of solos, you can try to pick out your favourite from Matt's almost jazzy keyboard one, Nicole's vaguely eerie fiddle or Kierans screaming guitar, all equally fine.
The closing section was simply breathtaking, a quick reorganisation of the the stage layout led into a version of "London Life" that can only be described as a barn storming hoe down with SJ a veritable blur throughout, including Matt playing melodica and Ed's super powered drumming. With the sheer force of "Hurricane" closing out the evening in a typically rousing almost exhausting manner,with the band giving everything and the audience needing eyes everywhere to capture all that was going on. The success of the night was visibly displayed by a complete standing ovation from all present, who had been witness to an incredible 90 minutes of ceaseless entertainment.