Amanda review scrollerSo the Americana Music Association UK awards and showcase rolls around again. It was back to Hackney, and this time the event was spread over three venues. Potential for clashes there but when the line-up was published, everything was fine. My two must-sees didn’t clash, so all systems were go for Amanda Rheaume at Paper Dress Vintage and Wild Ponies finishing the event at Moth Club. All I needed was two superb performances and my night would be complete. Spoiler alert; both bands were exceptional.

I’d visited Paper Dress Vintage in its previous location in Shoreditch and, yes, it’s a quirky combination of vintage clothes shop and gig venue. At least in the Hackney incarnation the bands don’t play in the window with a bus station as a backdrop. Amanda Rheaume has been touring the UK with guitar/pedal steel player Anders Drerup and bass player Anna Ruddick in support of her “Holding Patterns” album and they’re a potent live combination, creating a punchy live sound with help of some great harmonies and stomping foot percussion. The songs sound great on the album but the tight, punchy live sound was even better and a packed venue made for a memorable set, with the band tearing through a short showcase set (including the album opener “Get to the Part”, “Wolf of Time” and the relationship song “Dead Horse”) and leaving the audience wanting more. Amanda’s voice has a slightly rawer, raunchier quality in the live setting and her introductions established a genuine rapport between audience and performers.

Wild Ponies (Doug and Telisha Williams) enlisted the help of a British drummer to augment the line-up for their festival-closing set and closed out in epic style; it was a proper festival headliner set taken mainly from their 2016 album “Radiant” (which certainly is). They eased the audience in gently with “Born with a Broken Heart”, the album’s opening track before letting Mike Pence have both barrels with “Love Is Not a Sin”. They bravely slowed down the set with a beautiful new ballad “Hearts and Bones” before taking the Moth roof off with a storming version of “Unplug the Machine”, one of my favourite songs of 2016.

Both of these artists had cracking albums out last year. You should give them a listen and watch out for their next appearance near you. You can see some pictures of Amanda Rheaume at Paper Dress Vintage here and some Wild Ponies pictures from Moth here. Now, when’s the next gig?

I’m apologising in advance if this selection’s a bit miserable, but with the year we’ve had and the people we’ve lost, some of these songs chime in perfectly with the zeitgeist. In no particular order, here are five of my favourite songs of this year from albums we’ve reviewed on MusicRiot. Please don’t trust my attempts to convey the importance of these songs, click on the links and hear them in all their glory. These songs will enrich your lives.

7250588_orig1“Please Let it Rain in California Tonight”

From Anna Elizabeth Laube’s stunning album “Tree”, “Please Let it Rain in California Tonight” shone out like a beacon as a powerful secular reworking of “”The Lord’s Prayer” with a sparse piano backing. It’s beautiful and moving and you really need to listen to it.

 

 

holding-patterns-scroller“Red Dress” – Amanda Rheaume

From yet another high-quality album, “Red Dress” stands out by virtue of its simplicity and emotional message. Amanda delivers a political message about the disappearance and murder of indigenous women in Canada (and by extension the North American continent) in a very matter-of-fact way with a focus on victim-blaming, Simple and incredibly effective.

 

shoulder to shoulder scroller“Ordinary Day” – Chris While and Julie Matthews

From the album “Shoulder to Shoulder” (which is packed with exceptional songs), “Ordinary Day” gives an insight into the everyday tragedy of the loss of a family member. The pathos isn’t emphasised, it’s just expressed in an ordinary way with an empty chair. One of the most moving songs I heard this year.

 

Willow Springs Scroller“Shadow in the Window” – Michael McDermott

Michael McDermott is a prodigious talent who you should have heard of already but probably haven’t. He released two stunning albums this year and this is a song from his acoustic album “Willow Springs”. “Shadow in the Window” is on the theme of loss again as he tries to make sense of the death of his father and the gap that it created in his life. It’s powerful on the album, but you really should hear him play it live.

Radiant Scroller“Unplug the Machine” – Wild Ponies

From another album (“Radiant”), absolutely packed with great songs, “Unplug the Machine” taps into the energy of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” as it runs through a list of things that are wrong with the world today (and this was released before Trump was elected) at breakneck speed. I could listen to this time after time after time and then maybe a few times more.