Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Northcote Social Club
Outside, the cold damp streets are devoid of people, but within the bustling Social Club, a very particular type of warmth is drawing in a thickly cloaked huddle. The type of warmth only bluegrass, country and beer can bring.

Compelling duo Bill Jackson and Pete Fidler bawl lonely, heartfelt stories about pilgrimages to Tennessee and how to turn the tables on Jehovah’s Witnesses. Fidler's inspired lap steel and guitar playing seems to draw down streaks of silver rain whenever he drags his slide or slips a sprightly lick between Jackson’s lyrics. Any excuse to hear this man embellish a sorry tale is valid, such is his talent, and it’s a testament to Jackson’s charisma and songwriting chops that he’s not sidelined.

The Bastard Children offer irreverent busker-y bluster to their folk rock. Banjo, mandolin and harmonica push their Celtic soul from middling fare to something that will hopefully be enlivening festival bills throughout the summer. Songs about long journeys with ferrets, whales falling in love with lifeboats and broken hearts intermingle with none seeming out of place. Songs like Come On In showcase their prodigious multi-instrumentalism and songwriting skills and offer and as the set moves from intelligent balladry to knees-up/elbows-out accordion-toting folk dancing, the audience loosen up and move forward.

By now nearly filled, the room is humming animatedly with plenty of drink assisting the warm reception The Stillsons receive as the curtains part and the band’s new album Never Go Your Way is launched. With carefully constructed alt-country ballads and superlative live mixing, the Stillsons have punchy, spacious songs that drummer and vocalist Cat Canteri’s warm tones spread over like hot molasses. Fellow songwriter Justin Bernasconi’s considerable skills as a guitarist and singer never overcome the classy songwriting. 

Occasionally drifting into soft rock territory (Family on the Run), or barroom boogies (Small Things) the sounds are always warm. The acerbic Go Home and Stay Awake tackle racism and tenement living in a Costello-esquely effective way, and lends some gravitas to the mix.
Despite songs falling into predictably wholesome patterns, the band clearly aces everything they set out to do. Pedal steel maestro Ben Franz elevates and distinguishes the band with a gritty grace and a litany of guests including Jeff Lang only reinforces the band’s rare ability to support a song as a collective rather than enhance the product of one ego. The more rockin' Dish it Up shows us the band riled up, and it's a good thing. Closing with the righteous swagger of You Don't Know What I Need, the band return for an encore of Another Lover and the massive Charity & Ghosts to which were are rendered nothing but raucous shouters with massive smiles. Win.

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