James Thomson opened proceedings with a strong set that showcased songs from his forthcoming album Cold Moon as well as a brace of covers including songs by Blaze Foley and Jimmie Rodgers. Thomson is a master of understated blues-based country and showed his ability to capture the audience’s attention with evocative lyrics, wonderful finger-picking and a warm rapport with the crowd.
Jonny Fritz is often dubbed the clown prince of country music yet he showed so much more than that with a set that was in turns hilarious and touching. Fritz had the audience in the palm of his hand with his endearing blend of goofy and cynical humour and, accompanied by the incredibly talented fiddler Josh Hedley and later Robert Ellis, he filled the room with his observational lyrics that painted pictures of absurd small-town characters, bears in the forest, the benefit of exercise, dodgy tattoos and creepy roadside hotels. As with all great country music there is sadness below the surface and his ability to convey that through the laughter was a joyful experience.
Robert Ellis has gone from strength to strength of the last 2 years with a career trajectory heading skyward. To see him perform in a small club, up close and intimate was to witness an often breathtaking display of dextrous and effortless guitar playing laced with a singing style that wrung every last drop of emotion from each line. Accompanied by pedal steel and with his feet equally planted in jazz, country and progressive folk, Ellis played all the highlights from his recent album and the preceding Photographs plus wonderful evocative covers of Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning and George Jones’ The Grand Tour. Shots were raised, jokes were shared and Ellis showed just depth and range can be created from a single guitar and voice.
this review was first published in The Music