A lengthy queue has already formed outside The Sugar Club well in advance of door opening time, evidence of the attraction of having two songwriters of the calibre of Brandy Clark and Jim Lauderdale performing on the same stage. The release of Brandy Clark's 2013 album 12 Stories finally brought the Tennessee resident to the attention, as a performer, to the large numbers her song writing richly deserves. Her earlier career was focused more on writing material for others to record including successfully co-writing with Shane Mc Anally and Kacey Musgraves, a combination that produced hits for The Band Perry and Miranda Lambert. Born and raised in the small logging town Morton, Washington (population 900) may or may not have generated the visionary landscape for Clark, an artist with the ability to create intriguing tales from the everyday mundane run of the mill occurrences. She followed that debut album in 2016 with Big Day in a Small Town, another insight to the trials, tortures, lives and loves of the neighbours and inhabitants of small town America. Somewhat more heavily produced than its predecessor but Clark's gorgeous accented vocal and fearless writing impacted every bit as impressively as her debut and charted highly in both the U.S. and U.K. Country charts.
Her natural vocal is every bit as effective in a live setting as evidenced by her opening song this evening Hold My Hand, delivered solo acoustic before being joined on stage by her two-piece band. You're left in no doubt after that introduction, and the audience reaction, that the show is going to be something special and to suggest it lives up to expectation is an understatement. Commenting that this is the final night of a tour that started on September 26th she also adds that the reception she's receiving (‘and the Irish whiskey'!) is energising. 'Please sing along if you know the words or better still clap along cause I've no drummer on this tour' she jokes, but in reality the absence of percussion and her acoustic band gives Clark's honeyed vocal the space to blossom with every lyric crystal clear in delivery. That's not to detract from her superb band of Okie Myles Aubrey on acoustic guitar and Vanessa McGowan from Auckland New Zealand on upright bass, both of whose playing is wonderful and both of who add backing vocals creating stunning three-part harmonies throughout the set. Selection from both her albums feature with The Day She Got Divorced evolving into a sing along but also including some cracking guitar picking by Aubrey. ' I think I need to record an album of drinking songs' she teases before launching into a succession of substance abuse songs Get High, Drinkin' Smokin' Cheatin', When I Get To Drinkin, You're Drunk, Take A Little Pill and Hungover. The three way harmonies on Drinkin' Smokin' Cheatin' are particularly stunning. Commenting on the legendary drinking of the Irish she comments tongue in cheek ' What we call an alcoholic in the States you guys call a lightweight' adding that the same joke didn't go down as well in Belfast the previous night! Three Kids and No Husband, Big Day in a Small Town, Daughter (‘a good girl gone bad story and the best revenge song I'll ever write') and Stripes finish the set to a richly deserved standing ovation. The three-song encore consists of Carol King's Will You Love Me Tomorrow, a song that inspired Clark to attempt to follow suit, a new song entitled Apologies and the closer Pray To Jesus with the opening lyrics adapted to ‘We live in trailers and apartments too, from California to Dublin’.
Clark is undoubtedly one of the finest female songwriters in country music today with material that can shock, amuse and move in equal measures but what is also evident from this evenings show is her ability to deliver equally (if not to a greater extent) in a live setting with her gorgeous vocal, wonderful stage presence and perfectly suited accompanying musicians.
No stranger to Dublin having performed around the corner at The National Concert Hall with Beth Chapman Neilson in August, opening act Jim Lauderdale is a much loved, admired and charismatic artist, respected equally by industry punters and his peers. A prolific recording artist that seems to record (at least) one album annually he appears on stage immaculately turned out as usual in a colourful Dandy & Rose shirt and wine nudie suit trousers. Kicking off with Three Way Conversation after announcing Dublin as his favourite city to perform, his set includes Sweet Time from his current album London Southern and his Gram Parson / George Jones inspired The King of Broken Hearts. You Don't Seem To Miss Me is introduced as ' one that I got lucky with', a reference to both Patty Loveless and George Jones recording it before he revisits his current album with the slow burning love ballad I Love You So, delivered with delicate pausing and punctuation to pin drop silence. Also recorded by Patty Loveless and indeed Dave Edmunds and included in the set is Halfway Down. Due to head into the studio in three days’ time he plays a new song from the album, a country ballad titled Rubs Off On Me. Lauderdale also kindly gives Lonesome Highway a generous call out from stage mentioning our ' very talented graphic designer Steve Averill' and also Ronnie Norton's latest radio show Route 650 before finishing with Hole In My Head, one of his co-writes with good friend Buddy Miller.
All in all, a standout evening of quality music from two wonderful artists hugely enjoyed by a large and enthusiastic audience at The Sugar Club.
Review by Declan Culliton Photography bt Ronnie Norton