Joe Martin / Vic Allen - The Sound Lounge Sutton
On arriving at the Sound Lounge, you instantly know that you are in for a good night, from the wall of vinyl that whispers siren like to your credit card the moment you enter. to the bar all aglow with fairy lights with its menus full of vegetarian delights. There are mixture of sofas, charmingly odd chairs and tables, it is reminiscent of the coffee shop in "Friends" just with a stage! For those of a nervous disposition, Covid rules were fully observed, there are some huge "Virusbuster" air con units recycling the air and refreshments can be ordered via app or by turning on a light on your table which encourages a member of staff to swiftly appear.
There is also something just a little bit musically superior about the venue, from those aforementioned platters of vinyl on entrance ( Tony Joe White mixing with The Specials and Noel Gallagher ), to the stage, smallish and lowdown yet affording excellent views for all patrons, through to the pre show sound track, which danced around the Americana genre with a little Richard Thompson here, or Joni Mitchell there, and it was very prescient that "Big Yellow Taxi" should be chosen, for as Joni sings "You don't know what you've got till it's gone" and for far too many months live performing is one of the things that most certainly had vanished.
Tonight's show represented an opportunity to see two of the acts that we have already identified as must sees at the forthcoming Buckle & Boots festival and provided those unable to go a taster of what they'll be missing.
For Vic Allen, it was her first show of the year, the enforced break coming at a time when she was absolutely at the top of her live performing game, having played her EP launch to a packed Green Note, Tonight she chose to play seated on a tall wooden stool, one of the few available spaces on a somewhat packed stage. and treated us to a short set, full of new songs as well as some established favourites. Vic is now the fourth artist we've seen gradually adjust back to playing live again, and each has followed a similar pattern, starting a little nervously and then visibly growing in confidence as the set develops until by the end you imagine she could quite happily have carried on playing for ages!
Starting with "Barcelona", one of the songs that had just started to feature in her live sets before things shut down, this was very much testing out vocally what she could do. By the second song "Bittersweet", the little vocal touches, changes in volume to create drama in delivery, were starting to appear, even a little microphone issue didn't put her off her stride.
The time off has certainly allowed Vic to accrue plenty of new material "Disposable", with its snappily delivered lines, and gently picked guitar, immediately stood out, as it contemplated the nature of one night stands - "not from personal experience" Vic hastened to add.
Vic was a provider of great singles throughout 2020 and a couple of those "I Can" with it's devastating final pay off line in each chorus and "Enough" were delivered faultlessly. The former packed full of drama from which Vic extracted every ounce,, while the latter with its sense of frustration permeating through the chorus "It ain't enough for me" was possibly the stand out of a high quality set.
A couple of unrecorded songs closed out her performance "Your Street" immediately sounded very strong, and shows a development in Vic's songwriting style. The final song "Suitcase", currently being recorded also displayed signs of a new rich songwriting vein, the guitar playing much more intricate and confident, the vocal lines equally more adventurous - expect big things from Vic Allen in the remainder of 2021.
For Joe Martin, it was to be his first show with a band in 5 years and if you are going to have a band you may as well go for a good one and having the rhythm section from The Chorlton Country Club, and the renowned CJ Hillman on electric and pedal steel guitar certainly fits the bill.
Immediately kicking off with a bit of volume, "Doesn't Rain In LA" gave the opportunity to Joe to give full reign to his vocal talents. The band playing incredibly sympathetically easily matching their performance on Joe's latest EP, "Bound For Lonesome"
Another of the songs from that EP, "Forgotten Country Song" followed, a much more mellow song for which CJ's pedal steel playing was simply divine. providing the required melancholy to match the lyrics. It was on songs such as "Denver" from Joe's debut solo EP, where the band simply brought the song to life in a way that playing solo could not achieve, The warm double bass sound of Mark Lewis and atmospherics created from Dan Wiebe's cymbals transformed the whole song.
A surprise revelation from Joe is that he occasionally does a James Taylor tribute when he is not performing his own material, and tonight "Fire and Rain" found its way into Joe's set and did not seem at all out of place. Definitely retaining his own vocal style while channeling his inner James, this was a great cover. Always a great host with a little story to hand to bring each song into focus, that occasionally shone a light into his songwriting process, the intro to "Heartbreak Cult" being an example of how a song evolved from the inception of an opening line,
The closing song on the new EP, "Take Me Home" has a delicious soulful vibe to it, and although tonight it may have lacked the organ sound of the recorded version, it still showed that Joe possesses a sweet soulful voice when required, and when needed he could hit the high notes for this somewhat sultry song. An unrecorded tune that has previously been a stand out song in Joe's solo shows is "Money For The Needy", it is classic songwriting of a sort that we simply do not hear enough of these days, and when matched to a full band sound the results were simply sublime as we heard a mans life fall apart before our very eyes.
A brand new song in the shape of "High Gravity" had a great back story and rocking tune powered along by CJ's jangly guitar lines and let the band fully flex its muscles. The second cover of the evening saw Tom Petty's "Freefalling" reimagined as if James Taylor had written it, and so while the slowed down tune was unmistakably still Tom's, the vocal was much more in the style of James, it made for an entertaining hybrid with Joe displaying some delicately high vocals at one point.
By now the room was heating up a bit and so Joe stripped off his jacket before raising the temperature a little further with his cheating song from the new EP, "More Than Just Your Love", and in a spooky bit of symmetry Joe was able tie the end of the song to the candle extinguishing its last light on the table in front of us - truly a class act!!
A second piece of exemplary songwriting came with "Letters Of Regret", a song that by all rights should have afforded Joe a mantelpiece of awards, this full band version was simply outstanding. Christened at the Bluebird Cafe, tonights version was a perfect combination of Joe's vocals truly laden with regret, while CJ's pedal steel could not have sounded sadder, complimented perfectly by the bass, the audience were held in the palm of Joes hand as he let the story unfold.
The main set closed with "Daddy Gene", a final chance to rock out for the band, this time the song getting its impetus from Dan's glorious percussion.
With time to squeeze in just one encore, Joe perfectly summed up the mood of the audience, if not the whole country reflecting on the last year or so as he launched into Sandy Denny's "Who Knows Where The Time Goes". the words never seemed more apposite and Joe put his all into this version letting the evening end on an exquisite high.