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LIVE REVIEW: Willie Watson + Joshua Hedley @ NSC, Sydney (14/07/16)


Josh Hedley

Love Police have a knack for booking repeat tours that build up a local audience for supremely talented artists. In the past they’ve worked with Justin Townes Earle and Robert Ellis. This tour showcased two musicians who have been relatively frequent visitors, though not in a solo capacity. Yet again Love Police have hosted one of those gigs that will lodge in attendee’s minds as one to remember and reminisce about for years to come.

IMG_6464Central Coast duo Elwood Myre opened with just guitar, mandolin and two voices. Their namesake and lead vocalist has one of those grainy, ragged voices similar to The Felice Brothers and a freewheeling sound akin to The Band. Around one microphone they let their songs lay bare – vocal cords rattling and mandolin strings dancing in the winter air. It was an impressive set, the first of three for the night.

Joshua Hedley has, until now, been best known as the consummate sideman on fiddle and other instruments. We first got a taste of what he could really do with a solo song during Robert Ellis’ set last year and this time he left that song – Sweet Memories – to the end of his brilliant set. There were humorous asides about touring and songwriting between sips of whiskey but it was that classic country voice that slayed the audience. Rich and hanging heavy with intent on murder ballads or sweet resignation on tearstained ballads he knows his way around real deal country music, adding in a soul music twist at times. The combination of covers (incl. Jonny Fritz, Guy Clark) and originals made for a perfectly balanced set, singing his way into the audience’s hearts.


Willie Watson has a rich legacy  as a member of Old Crow Medicine Show, Dave Rawlings Machine and as a solo artist and once again he showed his skill as a player, singer and stage-worn entertainer. Folk music is Watson’s oeuvre and, while respecting and honouring it’s origins and peaks, he also pushes it forward as a living breathing song form. Forget guitar-face, banjo-face is a much more entertaining and extreme form of facial distortion with Watson twisting and stretching his face with the flurries of notes and accents. The crowd played their part with an impressive call and response sing-along on Stewball but it was Watson’s piercing, wavering voice on timeless classics like John Henry, Take This Hammer and Midnight Special that elevated the set into a masterclass of interpretation and performance in the folk (plus gospel and blues) idiom.

 Chris Familton

tie off


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