Alt-country doesn’t generally get a look-in with the arts festivals so it was pleasing to see the inclusion of Ramblin’ Nights in this year’s Vivid Sydney line-up. This was an evening that ranged in style from laid-back country rock to soulful country-blues hollers and heartland rock n roll.
Amber Rae Slade & The Mighty Big Noise connected immediately with the audience due to Slade’s sassy demeanour and a voice that cracked and soared with raw emotion. Partner Matt Fell was the consummate sideman on guitar, banjo, bass and percussion, filling out the sound and framing the songs in a similar way to Shovels and Rope. Theirs was a short set but it established the warm and convivial vibe of the evening.
After performing as a solo artist in his early years, James Thomson has evolved his live show to one that revolves around his band The Strange Pilgrims. They showed once again that they’re a sympathetic and tasteful group of players who give Thomson the space and textural depth to fully realise his songs. Thomson’s is mood music, the songs riding on in-the-pocket rhythms while the lead guitar found wonderful diversions and counterpoints to Thomson’s vocal. Last year’s Cold Moon album comprised most of the set, plus the odd cover and older song. The good news was that the band were due to head into the studio the following day to start recording new songs.
Adam Young was also in full-band mode with The Haints. They seem to be a revolving collective of musicians yet they all seem to fit the mold of his songs perfectly. The dynamics are larger in Young’s music, the rock outweighing the country as he dialled up restrained teeth-clenched emotion in a set that also featured guest appearances by Katie Brianna and some fine trumpet accompaniment. Young left us with Wolfe Island Blues, on of the highlights of his recent album, and a freewheeling Springsteen-styled exclamation mark on an evening that showcased some of the fine modern Americana music coming out of Sydney in 2016.