We are waiting for the doors of the Perth Concert Hall's main auditorium to open when it is announced that as Rodney Crowell is running late, tonight's entertainment is going to be delayed. My mother, Norma, is my plus one this evening, and we head outside to catch some sun. However, the postponement is short lived and we are soon seated and watching Crowell and his two accomplished sidemen, Eamon McLoughlin and Joe Robinson, tear into the first song of the evening. It's clear from the get-go that these accomplished musicians bring a lot to the table with an intro that blends McLoughlin's beautiful executed violin part with Robinsons romantic, Spanish-flavoured fingerstyle guitar.
The song itself, "Glasgow Girls", is a cracker. An ode to a west coast girl with "skin like milk" and "hair like silk". Whoever the girl is though, she's probably got a deep bronze, California tan after the summer we've been having. Rodney plays another song, the upbeat "Earthbound" before apologising profusely for keeping us waiting. "Last year I had to pull out of the festival because my body failed me. Today it was the train system that failed me. I'd rather the train system failed me!"
All is forgiven though as he treats us to a song that he penned with one of America's greatest songwriters, the recently deceased Guy Clark. Clark was a bit of a Mr Miyagi figure to Crowell and last nights headliner Steve Earle, taking them under his wing and acting as a songwriting mentor and "Stuff That Works" is one of the results. It's a beautifully straightforward song, with a real clarity to the vocal performance that allows the thoughtful heartfelt lyric to shine.
Next up is a great cover of Walter Davis's 1940 song "Come Back Baby". The trio breathes new life the song with Eamon providing that Johnny Cash "Boom Chika" sound on his fiddle. Crowell and Robinson trade tasty sounding acoustic guitar licks before Eamon blows us away with a frenetic fiddle solo of his own.
Guy Clark has his fingerprints all over tonight's performance as one of the standout tracks of the evening is "It Ain't Over Yet" which Crowell wrote the year Clark died of cancer. The lyric is so beautiful and natural, it truly feels like you are witness to a conversation between Crowell and Clark, and McLoughlin takes the vocal part John Paul White sung on the original. It's my new favourite song, really powerful stuff.
Next up is an instrumental interlude from Joe Robinson. Turns out this guitar prodigy won Australia's got talent at just 12 years old and Crowell gives him a solo slot to show us what he is made off. His awesome fingerpicking rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", features frenetic tapping and deft solo-ing that would make Eddie Van Halen seethe with jealousy. The Perth audience goes absolutely ape for it and Rodney sits back in his chair and watches the young guitarist with a real sense of pride.
Crowell's set nears an end with two songs written from the viewpoint of two twin brothers. "I Wish It Would Rain," tells the story of a reckless brother turning tricks in California, while "Wandering Boy," tells of his twin coming to terms with his brother dying of aids. The narrator in "Wandering Boy" is forced to confront and get over his prejudices:
"I used to cast my judgements like a net
All those California gay boys deserved just what they get
Little did I know there would come a day
When my words would come back screaming like a debt I have to pay"
It's great the way Rodney lets the story unfold over two songs, from two different perspectives, It's a really clever idea that gives him a much broader canvas to paint on. The performances are top notch too, Robinson provides the solo of the night on "Wandering Boy", letting the tension slowly build like a gathering storm.
Iris Dement takes to the stage acoustic guitar in hand and backed by double bass player Chris Donahue and launches into "The Way I Should" from the album of the same name. Dement has a soaring, twangy vocal delivery that fits in perfectly with Southern Fried. This is showed off to best effect on the sad tale "The Night I Learned Not to Pray" a heartbreaking shrouded in one of the prettiest melodies you've ever heard. Her vocal delivery reminds me of Bobby Gentry on "Ode to Billie Joe".
Dement has a self-effacing stage presence and as she moves over to her grand piano she tells us how astounded she is by the weather on this visit. "I've been here 10 or 12 times and I've never seen Scotland like this. It's like the hills of Northern California". It's clear by the next song, "The Kingdom Has Already Come", that Iris has a deft touch on the piano and she is loving the acoustics in the room. She talks between songs about how she struggled so hard to try and write a song and she was 25 before she finally completed one. She let her brother hear it only to be told that it already existed.
A group of songs from Dement's album, "The Trackless Wood", form the core of her set tonight. It's a group of songs whose lyrics are adapted from the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova's verses. "As a White Stone" is the first of these and it features some great accompaniment by Chris Donahue on the double bass. The Russian theme continues with a beautiful song basedChekhov'shovs "The Cherry Orchard" which features the strongest vocal of the evening.
All good things must come to an end though and soon Iris is gently encouraging us to hit the road with her catchy as hell encore "Go On Ahead and Go Home". It's been another brilliant night and I can't wait to check out Graham Nash's headline slot tomorrow evening.
If you like Colin's reviews then why not check out his Southern Fried themed Small City Podcast. You can stream and download it here!
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