An Evening of Americana Music

I greatly admire Union Music Store’s mission to bring their home-grown acts to the masses – a labour of love and angst warding off cynics like me, to be sure. Their three-band production, An Evening of Americana, attempts to tap into the lush, nostalgic backbone of American music – the blues, folk, rock and country that form and later inform most of our collective musical libraries. Which it does. Sort of.

A plaintive song about Chattanooga doesn’t mean you need to be intimately acquainted with the NC&StL railway, but it does mean you need to convince us you’ve smelled the rust and put a dusty penny down on those tracks.

It isn’t surprising that folk/Americana/banjo-banging is a growing genre; its diversion from whatever bondage theme tune Rihanna is ruining has been, for the most part, very welcome. This glut, shall we say, has the unintended consequence of bringing every strange stringed instrument out of the woodwork. In fact, you wouldn’t be allowed to call your music ‘Americana’ these days without plucking energetically at a banjo while bellowing on about lodging miles on the hagh-way.

This might be the biggest sigh-inducing issue with An Evening of Americana; they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – but there is a disconnect here. A plaintive song about Chattanooga doesn’t mean you need to be intimately acquainted with the NC&StL railway, but it does mean you need to convince us you’ve smelled the rust and put a dusty penny down on those tracks. Lucas and King (Bo and Hayleigh, respectively) opened with a simple, sweet set of songs that, with some vocal and instrumental depth, would be delightful to listen to. Their lack of polish is both endearing and slightly incongruous with this rust and sawdust material – folk is nothing if not ballsy and delivers its message with authority - if you don’t believe the words, why should anyone else?

MC Jamie Freeman proclaimed Self-Help Group’s debut album as one of his favourites of the past year - so I dutifully heaped expectations on the quintet’s shoulders. Self-Help Group have created some complex and nice songs; they sang with the conviction the lyrics needed to be taken seriously, in the spirit in which they were written. But in the same way that I respect Billy Bragg while having no real connection to his music, I sat trying desperately to be absorbed by the songs – one of which sympathised with the death of the oldest living thing on the planet (something we killed immediately, of course). This dewy-eyed number unhelpfully brought to mind the ‘Stonehenge’ scene of This is Spinal Tap.

Martha Tilston and the Scientists, the headliners, were equally accomplished if slightly more convincing performers; again, there seemed to be a plundering of mandolin and fiddle shops to complete the hairy line-up, but it was a nice full sound. I spent a lot of time ogling my fellow audience members, trying to gauge their reactions to the music, leaving as hollow as an Irish drum (a Bodhrán in case you’re wondering). Can Americana be effectively created by a band that’s not, er, American? Of course - the same way that The Civil Wars have no actual experience of a Confederate/Union bloodbath, but can still conjure up the close-harmonied, wearily nostalgic spirit of the South. But it’s clearly not an easy thing to do. Each group will probably have no issue finding a healthy fanbase despite me, and I sincerely hope that’s so.  

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The Blurb

Union Music Store is a driving force in roots music, and this evening they showcase some of their own label artists in the folk and Americana genre supporting Martha Tilston. Martha Tilston and the Scientists The daughter of folk legend Steve Tilston, Martha found herself drawn to folk’s protest spirit and its themes of social justice from an early age. The Self Help Group are a harmony-drenched blend of folk and Americana imbued with the spirit of the Laurel Canyon. In 2013, they released their first album, “Not Waving But Drowning” with the Union Music Store label, an album that’s made several “Best of 2013” lists.