As the incredible list of Americana acts visiting our shores continues (courtesy of Love Police and Out On The Weekend), last night saw contrasting shades of alt-country serenade the Newtown Social Club and a room full of music and media who’s who of the Sydney Americana scene (Emma Swift, Jep & Dep, Fanny Lumsden, Bernard Zuel, Jeremy Dylan, Mark Lucas…).
Ruby Boots set the scene early with her solo set (and some pedal steel/guitar accompaniment) that showcased her emotive voice and impressive songwriting. She was assured yet her voice had just enough strain and cracks to suggest an underlying heartache.
The Delines are the new band project for singer, songwriter and author Willy Vlautin, best known for his other band Richmond Fontaine. From the opening strains of ‘Colfax Avenue’ they transformed the mood of the room into a hazy, swaying vibe, drenched in sweet country-soul and slowcore indebted jazz tones. As players they’re all firm believers in the ‘less is more’ approach. Notes hung in the air like afterthoughts through the gentle swells, pauses and delicate crescendos. Out front Amy Boone (The Damnations) delivered a majestic performance that showcased her ability to conjure up desolate heartache, loneliness, despair and the occasional flash of optimistic stoicism. Her singing style is effortless with the words forming gentle melodies that cut straight to the heart like lullabies to the downtrodden. When she sang “I won’t slip up” you were transported directly to the core of the aching plea and her ability to overwhelm the listeners mood is a quality that marks the finest songs and singers. Most of their debut album was played plus a handful of new tracks that showed they are no one album project. The Delines’ performance was faultless with their warm personalities and sensitive musicianship lending Vlautin’s songs/short stories a devastatingly real emotional weight.
Nikki Lane flipped the downbeat musical mood with her upbeat sass and strum songs that though they also deal in marital breakups and emotional turbulence were delivered with a middle finger in the air and a sparkle in the eye. Her band filled the music out well though after The Delines they initially sounded a little too busy and eager at times. Lane played most of her album All Or Nothin’ plus some newer tracks before calling local heroine Emma Swift to the stage to sing backing vocals on ‘Love’s On Fire’ and then a duet on The Byrds ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’. Rounding out the set with the infectious ‘Right Time’ and a trio from the audience as backup dancers Lane proved to be the consummate performer with a surprisingly strong voice, a streak of outlaw attitude and irreverence and the ability to marry strong songs with hooks aplenty. This was a night of alt-country extremes which showed just how much colour and shade can be created from the country music template.