What's Cookin' ScrollerI shouldn’t have found it funny when Steve Jenner’s latest “Tales from the Towpath” was a gig that coincided with the Germany/Italy Euro quarter-final on Saturday. Four days later, karma kicked in and I found myself in Leytonstone for the Wednesday What’s Cookin’ session at Leytonstone Ex-Servicemen’s Club while Wales played Portugal in the semi-final. So now we know where my priorities lie.

What’s Cookin’ has been a fixture in East London since 2004, occupying various venues around Walthamstow/Leyton/Leytonstone under the direction of Ramblin’ Steve (Ferguson) and has landed in a function room above one of the few surviving social clubs. The venue scrubs up nicely when dressed with a few lights, a mirror ball and some faux foliage to create a nice domestic ambience that enhances the relaxed feel of the night. If you add proper, well-kept beer that doesn’t involve taking out a second mortgage, you’ve got a recipe for success, football permitting.

First out of the blocks was Dan Webster from York. He’s touring with Amelia White at the moment and the two helped each other out through both of the opening sets. Dan’s songs are mainly in the folk storytelling tradition and his laconic delivery worked perfectly as an opening to the evening as he ran through a selection of his material including “Haul Away”, “Dancers” and “Elvis”. The songs are well-crafted, combining folk tradition with the modern singer/songwriter idiom; a lovely way to start of the evening.

The volume increased a few notches with Amelia White as she ran through an electric set, most of which was accompanied by Dan. “Dogs Bark” and “Home Sweet Hotel”, an insight into life on the road, stood out in a set of fine songs from. Amelia’s voice is individual and intriguing, lending a plaintive touch to her succinct and slightly skewed lyrics. Not mainstream and not for everyone on the night, but it worked for me.

After a last-minute travel hitch the planned headliners, The Uptown Toodeloo String Band were replaced at the last minute by Morton Valence, fronted by Robert Hacker Jessett and Anne Gilpin. The set started with Robert performing a solo version of the wordy “Lower Middle Class Dilemmas” before being joined by Anne and, a little later, the rest of the band. The full band line-up introduced some superb harmonies and some fascinating textures, including Anne Gilpin’s Ebow guitar, which added a layer of brooding menace. Their musical vision felt a little out of place on this particular bill, but I’ll be making an effort to see them again.

What’s Cookin’ was a great midweek night out, with a friendly atmosphere, interesting setting and an eclectic choice of performers. The only jarring note was the number of people leaving just before the collection to pay the musicians. Maybe it was about public transport, but it left a sour taste to see so many people refusing to contribute. Anyway, check out the What’s Cookin’ website; you may just find a reason to go to Leytonstone on a Wednesday or Saturday night.

 

Home Sweet Hotel ScrollerAmelia White is from East Nashville. As Sam Lewis explained recently at Green Note, the distinction between downtown Nashville and East Nashville is one that means less and less the further you get away from Nashville, but it’s an important one. Downtown is the centre of the country establishment and East Nashville’s the edgy, hip satellite where you’re likely to hear something a bit out of the ordinary and “Home Sweet Hotel” certainly isn’t what you would call mainstream country. There’s a bit of a harder rock edge to most of the songs with a bit of overdriven guitar and some nice double lead guitar arrangements to spice the mix up.

The opening song “Dangerous Angel” is the first clue that this is a long way from mainstream country; there’s a slight emphasis on the offbeat which isn’t quite reggae, but it’s certainly leaning in that direction. From here on the album moves through a variety of musical stylings, including the uptempo country rock of “Leaving in my Blood” through the early Dylan feel of “Dogs Bark” to the slow sixties feel of “Right Back to my Arms” and “Six Feet Down” which close the album.

The lyrical theme running through the album is the performer moving along from town to town and it’s one that’s fairly common in current Americana. There’s no romance to being on the road, it’s just a succession of cheap motels and long drives and Amelia highlights this, and the longing to be back among family and friends (and with a lover). Her lyrical style is succinct; songs that seem to be densely packed with lyrics when you hear them turn out to be just a few lines long when you see them on the page. “Dogs Bark”, a warning against shooting your mouth off is a great example; it rattles along like some early multi-versed Dylan epic, but it’s really just a few very well-written lines (and some advice that Elvis Costello should have taken a long time ago).

Amelia sees herself as a songwriter first and performer second, and the craft in the construction of the songs is evident; there isn’t a word wasted and the lyrics are matched by the musical settings. And the East Nashville thing isn’t just about living there; Amelia creates a sense of place with references in “Rainbow over the Eastside” and the line ‘Hanging at The Family Wash’ from “Melissa”. It’s not just a place, it’s a way of life.

“Home Sweet Hotel” is out now on White-Wolf Records.