Kenny White / Deborah Rose, Tarc Gallery, Stanford Bridge, Worcestershire, 18/10/2012.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
Ian Mann enjoys the double bill of New York singer/songwriter Kenny White and British songstress Deborah Rose.
Kenny White / Deborah Rose, Tarc Gallery, Stanford Bridge, Worcestershire, 18/10/2012.
Native New Yorker Kenny White seems to have found a spiritual home in the beautiful Teme Valley in rural Worcestershire. Two years ago I saw the singer/songwriter give a memorable performance at The Hatch in nearby Lindridge and tonight’s visit, arranged hurriedly and by popular demand, was at least his second visit to Tarc. Support on all these dates has come from British songstress Deborah Rose (nee Hodgson) who hosts and co-ordinates the music programme at the Tarc Gallery.
Rose and White first met through a mutual admiration for the music of American folk singer Judy Collins, White is signed to Collins’ Wildflower record label, Rose has supported her on her visits to the UK including a prestigious show in 2011 at Worcester Cathedral.
The format at Tarc’s music and supper evenings has changed slightly with “light refreshments” now being served rather than hot meals as previously. These are still pretty substantial, tonight’s Mediterranean style platters included cold meats, olives, stuffed baby peppers, fresh bread, various varieties of cheese and more. At £20.00 per head it still represents good value when combined with the quality of the music.
Deborah Rose was first to take the floor performing songs from her recently released five track EP, a precursor to her first full length album release “Song Be My Soul” due for release in 2013. For tonight’s performance she was joined by pianist Ian King, her songwriting partner on a number of the pieces to be heard tonight. King, a new name and face to me, proved to be a highly able accompanist who conjured a remarkably authentic acoustic piano sound from his Yamaha keyboard.
The pair opened with the jointly written “Little Boat” which immediately demonstrated the remarkable clarity and purity of Rose’s voice, qualities she consistently brings to folk, jazz and original material.
Rose’s love of poetry is reflected in the number of settings of poems she has recorded over the years. The current EP includes words from Alfred Lord Tennyson and Christina Rosetti. Tonight we heard Rose and King’s heavily edited but highly effective and breathtakingly beautiful setting of Tennyson’s “The Lady Of Shallot”. Rose was recently invited to perform the piece at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery where J.W. Waterhouse’s painting “The Lady Of Shalott” is currently being shown until 13th January 2013 as part of the exhibition “Love and Death;Victorian Paintings from The Tate”. Her EP is currently on sale at the Gallery and from http://www.deborahrose.co.uk
The EP artwork depicts Rose as Tennyson’s (arguably) tragic heroine and The Waterhouse work suggests that the story may also have provided the inspiration for the earlier “Little Boat”.
After this, title notwithstanding, King’s “Dark Traveller” actually came as a spot of light relief, a pop song with a catchy piano motif as it’s hook. One could easily imagined being scaled up to stadium size by the likes of Keane.
Rose has recorded the lovely “Taigh Alainn” several times. The title means “House Beautiful” and is derived from Scots Gaelic with Rose deploying one of her most beautiful memorable melodies to relay this nostalgic tale of childhood holidays spent in the Scottish islands. The album version will feature Dan Cassidy, brother of the late Eva on violin. American born but now resident in Iceland Cassidy is another popular and regular visitor to this part of the country. He will play Tarc with guitarist/vocalist James Hickman on 27th November 2012.
Mention of Dan Cassidy provided a neat link into “Springtime”, a heart warming setting of an Eva Cassidy with music by Ian King. King’s melody and Rose’s beautiful vocal certainly did justice to Eva’s simple but direct and moving words.
The duo closed their short set with “Song Be My Soul”, the title track from the forthcoming album. The lyric borrows from the hymn tune “Calon Lan”, an acknowledgement of Rose’s Welsh roots.
I’ve seen Rose sing live on a number of occasions and have found her performances to be assured, professional and consistently beautiful. Hers is a talent deserving of wider recognition. As I’ve said before the forthcoming album deserves to put her on the map.
I was also highly impressed with the contribution of Hereford Born, Worcester based Ian King. Classically trained but with a love of folk music his website http://www.iankingmusic.co.uk offers an informative insight into his other musical activities.
Kenny White came late to solo performance after many years as a session pianist. The keyboard is still his primary instrument although he also accompanies himself on guitar and harmonica. Tonight he borrowed Ian King’s keyboard, a similar model to the one he normally uses, and produced a typically entertaining set that embraced both humour and pathos.
White’s musical persona ranges from the hard boiled and streetwise to the surprisingly romantic. A talented lyricist his love of imagery and wordplay matches that of fellow New Yorkers Paul Simon (an acknowledged influence) and Donald Fagen and there’s more than a hint of Tom Waits in some of his songs too, particularly on some of his more humorous offerings.
White doesn’t have a classically “good” voice but his hipster drawl covers a surprisingly wide emotional and dynamic range. He opened up with the wordy “Annabel” quickly establishing his hard bitten street persona.
Many of tonight’s songs came from his most recent album “Comfort In The Static” (2010) including “Out Of My Element”, a typically sharply observed vignette that combines sly, ironic wordplay with a very real sense of vulnerability.
The rambling “Symphony In Sixteen Bars” was the title track to White’s 2004 album and is a dedication to the singer’s late father.
“Where Are You Tonight” hinted at both Simon and Waits but was really White at his most exposed and vulnerable, something mirrored by the equally pared down voice and piano only arrangement on the “Comfort In The Static” album. From the same record “She’s Coming On Saturday” was a rambling, often viciously funny meander full of Waitsian style humour.
White switched to a Guild acoustic guitar and Dylan-esque harmonica for the songs “Save The Day” and “Letter From X Ray”, the latter written from the point of view of a soldier mailing home from Vietnam. “I told you my references were topical”, observed White sardonically. His verbal banter between songs is all part of his NY hipster act, sleepy Worcestershire just loved it.
Still on guitar White blended some of that humour and pathos in the same song with “Call Me When You’re On Your Way”, a typically spot on observation of his Florida based mother’s struggles Alzheimers. There was something cross cultural here that many of the audience could identify with, sometimes the lyrics were sad, often they were achingly funny. This kind of lyrical juxtaposition is the kind of thing White does best.
For “Last Stop” White moved back to the keyboard and switched on a cheap beat box to simulate the tinny chatter of “portable Sonys” (he rhymes it with “cojones”) on a new York night bus. This was a witty, street smart chronicling of New York life and saw White joined by talented young viola player Julia Nuti who has played on and co-ordinated the Italian leg of White’s European tour.
In 2006 White released a five track EP that attacked many of America’s political and cultural mores. The record included a scabrous attack on TV evangelist Pat Robertson, a piece he aired a couple of years ago at The Hatch. Tonight’s offering from that recording was the cynically scathing “Back To The Drawing Board”. This was followed by the more positive message of the gentler and more reflective “Find My Own Way” which also featured Nuti’s viola playing at its best.
After her cameo appearance Nuti left the stage as White moved back to the piano for the hilarious “Gotta Sing High”, a wry reflection on the nature of songwriting in relationship to the blatant commerciality of the music business. It includes a barely disguised broadside at the wretched James Blunt but could also apply to Coldplay and all their reedy voiced imitators.
“What Good Would That Do Me Now” was White’s convincing attempt to write a Great American Songbook standard in the style of the 1940’s. As at The Hatch White closed his performance with the enduringly popular “My Recurring Dream”, a tune that allowed him to show his impressive piano technique to the full, White has a great admiration for jazz (one of his earlier songs had name-checked John Coltrane) and there’s jazz technique and sophistication in his playing.
Once again White’s blend of quality songwriting, superior musicianship and witty repartee between tunes had carried the day and the audience at the intimate space of the Tarc Gallery gave him a rousing ovation. The inevitable encore saw him acknowledging his admiration for Paul Simon with a winning version of Simon’s “American Tune”.
Deborah Rose and Rosemary Kirby of the Tarc Gallery are building up an impressive reputation for the quality of their music and supper evenings. White offered enjoyable but often though provoking entertainment and once again confirmed that he is a class act. In many ways it’s a surprise that he doesn’t enjoy a higher profile, he’s an intelligent and charismatic performer and it was a joy to see him at such close quarters and in such a friendly and intimate location. His albums contain sympathetic contributions from other musicians but retain the intimacy and atmosphere of his stage shows. Packed with consistently excellent songwriting all are well worth checking out at http://www.kennywhite.net
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