MC HANSEN, CARLY DOW @Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham 16/01/17


Blue Monday? Nah, one of those nights

Today, according to boffins with way too much time on their hands anyway, is Blue Monday. Officially the most miserable day of the year. The weather in Birmingham has done its best to join in. It’s been one of those days where the second city doesn’t get light and there’s been a drizzle since dawn, but there’s always someone worse off than you. Don’t believe us? Well, you could go and stay at Carly Dow’s house and get attacked by a bear.

Apparently such a thing happened when a couple of her friends stayed for the weekend and that is just one of the stories the amiable Canadian tells as her superb set winds it way around for 45 minutes. Performing as a duo with singer/songwriter Logan McKilllop, Carly manages to find new sides to the already brilliant “Ingrained” record. “Down This Road” is even darker and bluesier here, “Too Much To Go Back” is one of a clutch of her songs that are are informed by her surroundings back home, while “Watch You Go” comes alive with some new desolation.

In between the Banjo comes out for a gorgeous “Not A Songbird”, there’s a new track, “River Road” which is typical of the imagery that Dow uses in her songs, as it tells the tale of native Canadians and she ends on a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Caleb Meyer”.  Comparisons with Welch are clear and would be welcomed now doubt, but Carly Dow is naturally – and incredibly – talented and very much an artist with her own distinctive agenda.

There aren’t many songs that are about building a chicken coop in your back garden. But then, there aren’t many artists like MC Hansen. That manual labour forms the basis for the magnificent “In My Neighbourhood” (it took him six days to make, apparently) and if he isn’t a handyman, he makes up for it by writing fine, fine songs.

Like Dow, he’s here as a duo with Jacob Chano on Harmonium and backing vocals – and the use of harmonies is stunning throughout – and the pair weave their magic across classy work like “He Was A Young Father” which again eschews the obvious to tell the story of a Danish farmer who went to the US to prospect for gold and “Killer,” written from the perspective of a grieving mother who’s son has killed two people.

Pitched somewhere between Bob Dylan, Neil Young and The Cash Brothers, Hansen delivers a near faultless brand of folk music (“we’ve written a murder ballad about a tree, you have to write about trees if you want to be a folk singer” he helpfully offers before “I Cut Down A Tree”) and it helps that he is clearly a born raconteur. He ends with the astonishing “With Any Luck” which is very obviously a song of great personal significance given that it is about his late grandfather, before being joined again by Dow and McKillop for “The Sins Of your Father”.

This is unquestionably the highlight of the evening, as the four play without microphones and effectively busk the song, which is bluesy, traditional and uplifting – and many other things besides.

Such a line is almost a metaphor for the whole evening, because both acts put on a show that twisted and  turned and went into many unexpected and wonderful places. Those that thought this was the most depressing day of the year clearly were not here.



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