by Chris Familton
New Zealander (now Melbourne-based) Marlon Williams opened the evening with an impressive set of originals and covers (Townes Van Zandt). Williams’ voice is a beautiful instrument capable of soaring falsetto, yodel hiccups and he used it to near perfection singing songs of tear-stained loss and heartache. One in particular, State Hospital, was a wonderful tale of a man caught between conflicting states of mind. As his writing develops Williams will evolve into a special songwriter/performer.
In contrast, Cory Chisel possessed a richer, more soulful vocal tone, accompanied by Adriel Harris on vocals and keyboard. The duo had the chemistry to breath genuine emotion and depth into Chisel’s wandering songs. Some drifted by nicely while Times Won’t Change was rousing and infectious and Never Meant To Love You was a direct hit to the heartstrings. Chisel’s music sounds great on record but live and stripped down to a duo it felt more direct and personal, aided by his humorous interactions with a boisterous Irish section of the small crowd.
After touring earlier in the year supporting Justin Townes Earle it was a shame more people didn’t turn out for Robert Ellis, with no more than 50 people in the room. It mattered little in terms of the quality of the performance and those in attendance more than made up for it with their applause, cheers and banter. While many songwriters support their voice with guitar, Ellis’ talent with six strings almost stole the show. His left hand stretched and danced across the fretboard creating hyper-speed flurries of notes and delicate melodic patterns. Of course he backed up his playing with quality songs, tonight playing highlights from his Photographs album including the title track, Westbound Train, Two Cans of Paint and a particularly moving version of Friends Like Those. Ellis too indulged in some hilarious banter with the crowd, reeling off some questionable jokes and cajoling pedal steel guitarist Wil Van Horn into a guest stand-up spot. The duo’s playing was a masterful display of instruments in harmony adding that extra layer of sad sound to Ellis’ already dark and introspective songs. Covers of songs by Norman Blake, Paul Simon and Deer Tick’s John McCauley plus Singalong, TV Song and the intense Bottle of Wine and a Bag of Cocaine from Ellis’ forthcoming LP rounded out what was often an extraordinary night of acoustic Americana music.
this review was first published in The Music