Rackhouse Pilfer @Nell’s Jazz and Blues 30/03/17

3 stars (out of 5)

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Rackhouse Pilfer review scrollerIf you look at the star rating at the top of this piece, you might think I was a bit lukewarm about Rackhouse Pilfer, but the band was very good; that wasn’t the problem. There are a lot of other things that can take the shine off a potentially great evening, so let’s get those out of the way before we go any further. There are notices all around the venue reminding the audience not to talk during performances; it didn’t make any difference, particularly during Elly O’Keefe’s support set. To add insult to injury, the sound, particularly the vocals, was pretty muddy throughout the night (maybe the position of the sound desk, to one side of the stage, doesn’t help) which isn’t helpful when there are six instruments and some lovely vocal harmonies featuring all six band members. And that’s before we mention the snare rattling constantly throughout Elly O’Keefe’s set. So what about the good stuff? 

Well, Elly’s set was solid singer-songwriter material delivered, mainly her own songs with one cover, John Martyn’s “Over the Hill”. Her chord progressions were interesting, she strummed and picked and her voice went all the way from a delicate whisper to a bluesy shout. As the audience chatter got louder, so did she and eventually she won the contest. 

Rackhouse Pilfer was another proposition entirely; six musicians, all of them singers as well, is a very different kind of sound. With various combinations of drums, upright bass, mandolin, acoustic guitar, fiddle, slide resonator and banjo the band is totally at ease with a variety of textures and they sounded convincing across a spectrum ranging from Irish traditional through bluegrass, Hank Williams country (“Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used to Do?”), the seventies Laurel Canyon scene and Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road”. I missed murder ballads, didn’t I? 

The original songs from the last album, particularly “Angela” and “Two Oceans” are powerful live and the playing (individually and as an ensemble) is spot on, but Rackhouse Pilfer have one more trick. When all six members sing and when all the voices are working together perfectly, it’s something very special indeed; it’s hard not to make that Eagles comparison when you hear those harmonies. The niggly little things that tarnished the night a little were out of the band’s control and only made me determined to see Rackhouse Pilfer doing their eclectic mix in a more congenial environment next time. You should keep an eye out for them.

Here are some pictures from the gig.