Saturday, October 25, 2014

Living the Americana dream


Perhaps in tribute to Vienna Ditto, for whom they’re last-minute replacements, Swindlestock have slimmed down to a duo for the evening. It hardly matters. Dava possesses a better set of pipes than the tobacconists on High Street, even if he doesn’t have a harmonica case (“I should get one instead of a fucking Tesco bag”), and a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Lungs’ isn’t noticeably superior to any of their own rootsy folk. The jaunty ‘Sitting On The Stoop’ sneaks in an improbable reference to snorkelling before the complete contrast of final song ‘Let It Storm’, which finds Dava really letting rip.

While Swindlestock have scaled down for the occasion, The August List have scaled up. Normally a twosome comprising husband-and-wife combo Kerraleigh and Martin, tonight they’re backed by electric guitar, bass and drums to give us a flavour of the fuller sound of debut album O Hinterland.

At first it’s something of a curveball, rendering the stupendously good ‘Wooden Trunk Blues’ – the set opener and a personal favourite – disconcertingly unfamiliar. By the end of melodica-powered second song ‘Cut Your Teeth’, however, I’m coming around to the idea. A couple of tracks later, spellbound by the additional depth and force the backing instrumentation brings to their bruised and bittersweet songs, I’m completely smitten, drawing favourable comparisons with the similarly raw, dark-hearted Americana of early Sparrow & The Workshop and quite prepared to stand on street corners loudly proclaiming them the best band in Oxford.

Chinnor’s answer to Carter and Cash do get the stage to themselves for a while (“We let the band go and ring their families, so they can let them know they’re OK”), inspiring a mass stompalong to ‘High Town Crow’, as sinister a tale of claustrophobic small-town life as you’ll hear. Their accomplices return to provide backing holler on rollicking ode to moonshine ‘Forty Rod Of Lightning’, Martin noting that the Bullingdon bar doesn’t sell it “so you’ll have to make do with a Sol”. The only misstep is the cover of Jenny Lewis’ ‘See Fernando’ to finish, if only because they could put more faith in the strength of their own material to do the job.

Also launching a new album, Plumes, are Co-Pilgrim, who immediately situate themselves somewhere between the American Midwest and the West Coast and whose tender songs wear their melancholy like a comfort blanket. ‘I’m Going To The Country’ clearly signposts where the set is headed, though with detours for the gorgeously slow and meditative ‘Come Out Alive’ and the prime Teenage Fanclub jangle of ‘Pushover’.

‘It’s Curtains For Me’ is the appropriately titled set-closer (“If you’ve still got the will to live after that, come and say hello”, jokes Joe Bennett), though it’s testament to their abilities that they somehow manage to pull off a percussion-free encore of Don Henley’s ‘The Boys Of Summer’ despite reluctant frontman Mike Gale being five audience-purchased whiskies worse for wear and struggling to recall the lyrics.

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