Ariel Posen + Katy Hurt
Sunday 24th February 2019
The Borderline, London
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Now I wish I could write like that. Sadly, my grasp of the English language is somewhat more limited but not to the extent that I can’t garner that we are in changing times, both for better and for worse. Luckily, tonight’s entertainment is provided by two artists whose linguistic skills have provided us with a couple of excellent albums of new material, pleasing both audibly and lyricaly. And in one of London’s best intimate subterranean venues, The Borderline, in the heart of London’s Soho district, opposite the iconic home of guitar sellers, Denmark Street. Where better to find great guitar playing.
Opening act tonight is London born Country singer Katy Hurt. Although born in the UK, she moved to Long Island, New York, when she was two and steeped herself in Americana. Now back in the UK she has brought her love of Nashville Country music, and all American blonde good looks, with her to delight the home crowd. Her set is a delightful mix of Country songs with thoughtful lyrics that show her talents as a wordsmith. “I loved words”, she says. “My dad speaks three languages and my mum speaks five. I call myself a word nerd, I find it interesting and as a songwriter, I find having different languages and accents can actually change the way that you write."
Accompanied by Gab Zsapka on acoustic/backing vocals, Katy launches into a familiar Nashville sound (dare I say Dolly-esque?) with the soulful slow ballad 'Falling Apart'. Her voice is almost stereotypically Country with soft velvetiness but the power when needed. Zsapka provides the only accompaniment - no bass or drums needed - which highlights the quality of the songs and the voice. The bearded, hatted guitarist is the only band Kate needs as he plays rhythm, licks and solos. Second song 'Drink' sees Kate also join in on acoustic guitar for a more up tempo feel, with the tempo further increased for 'Sleeping Next To You' with Zsapka providing dual vocals for a little light harmony.
Katy takes time out to chat about the next track which she wrote at The Borderline when she was last in town. The song is 'Natchez', named after a town in Mississippi. "Somewhere down in Natchez, I'll be striking matches, And lighting up every single letter you sent my way" she sings in her beautiful creamy voice. Ironic, as, unbeknownst to our songstress, the town suffered a newsworthy fire back in the 40’s. Well she’s setting London on fire tonight. Apparently inspired by a Clint Eastwood movie, 'Revved Up' gets raunchier with a few finger clicks and clapping thrown in. The video she made for this song sees her head off into the desert in her Dad’s jeep. Which she promptly trashed. Sorry Dad.
'See Ya Later' is a song about a boy - every female Country singer has one - whilst the radio friendly 'Unfinished Business' is a gentle single guitar ballad, and the title track of Katy’s latest EP. The punchier, dual vocal, 'The World Ain't Waiting On Me' allows the crowd to sing-along with the chorus whilst closing track 'Fire' is a great Blues track with amazing Blues picking from Zsapka and strong vocals from Katy finishing on a long strong held note that took your breath away. It was a fine performance from two very talented musicians.
Ariel Posen is a man of many parts. He first reached public notice as part of The Brothers Landreth line up although the young Canadian has spent most of his life surrounded by music as he followed his musician parents on the road, picking up music and guitar playing skills and, most notably, exquisite tone. He came to my attention as a guest presenter on the Andertons TV YouTube channel, alongside co-presenter ‘Danish Pete’ Honore. Both are extremely talented guitarists but Posen is notable for the beautiful tone that he naturally evokes from whatever instrument he is given to showcase. But although I consider him a guitarist, it is as a songwriter that he is making his name. "The guitar is the tool to get the music out" he says. "Always serve the song first. Otherwise you are just playing an instrument." He’s not wrong although Posen’s guitar playing is entertaining enough to stand on its own.
So after many years playing and writing, Posen has finally released his own album of songs called 'How Long', and a great album it is. Citing influences such as The Beatles, Stevie Ray Vaughan and John Mayer, the album is quite an eclectic mix of styles that defy anyone trying to put him into a pigeonhole. I will leave that to the male pigeons. Taking to the stage, the tall slim perfectly coiffured Canadian, looking cool in a light denim shirt and dark jeans, is joined by Davie Ryan on drums and Eoin Walsh on bass. Tonight’s rig sees Ariel play a light green Collings Soco Deluxe with a tortoiseshell pickguard, with what look like Filtertronic style humbuckers, and a white Mule custom ‘Strat’ style guitar while his amps are a Two Rock traditional clean, a Two Rock classic reverb and a Victory V40 Deluxe. And a pedal board with infinite options, including ‘The Dane’ a pedal designed by his Andertons co-presenter. Am I being geeky enough for you?
Opening track 'Try', also the opening track of his new album, is a smooth John Mayer style track with harmonic backing vocals from Ryan and Walsh. To start with the vocals are slightly muddy but the sound engineer soon sorts that out and I was too mesmerised by the sweet guitar to mind. Second track 'Sistermamalover' is a Lenny Kravitz cover that has a slow groove and the ever present slide in the dirtier Blues solo. Both tracks are played on the white Mule whose humbucker pickups give the dirtier sounds a lush growl. Switching to the Collins, Posen launches into the slow chugging 'I’m Gone' which was destined to be on the new album but, criminally, isn’t. Ordinarily a quiet ballad, the live version has quite a broken guitar sound and Ariel makes good use of his multitude of effects to give a fuller ambient sound. It’s the song that sticks in my head for days. Did I mention the tone? Sorry Ariel, I know it’s about the song but what a tone. And to be fair to Ariel, every song is the right balance between vocals, instruments and tone. He really does serve the song – nothing is too overpowering.
According to Mr P, we are now entering the sad song segment. He would argue that he album is full of them. I find them uplifting personally. Staying with the green machine, the dirt is turned up for 'Things That I've Said'. Starting almost acoustically, the song builds to slide filled rocking guitar, again with backing vocals. A fine toe tapper for something supposedly sad. Although I guess slide has a sad lilt to it however it’s played. 'How Long' on the other hand starts as a slow vocal lament. No drums or bass to lighten the mood. This allows Posen’s clear vocals to shine briefly before the song builds into an almost Country/Pop song with beautiful slide guitar picking, dripping in reverb and delay. Slow the solo may be, but it has the touch and feel that makes a solo absorbing without the need to play any more notes than necessary. Less is more. Upping the tempo somewhat, with a cover of Billy Preston’s song 'Nothing From Nothing', we change the style from Country to near Jazz. This gives Eoin Walsh the chance to shine with some impressive Jazz bass both soloing, and trading licks and lines with Ariel’s Mule. Now I’m no Jazz fan but it’s such a groove (man!). The two trade licks for what becomes a five minute Jazz jam. To quote Baloo "I’m gone man, solid gone."
Not to be out done, Davie Ryan on drums, who has provided the solid beat that underlines everything, shows how he can handle even the most unusual timings on 'Nobody Else'. The slow crooner has a very slow, interesting timing that skips a beat. About lost love, the song is interesting with a key change, minimalist drum beat and slide solo that had me thinking 'Deliverance'. Ariel takes time out to explain how songwriting works in the modern world. 'I’ll Be Finding You' was co-written with a friend in New Zealand over Skype. Time differences certainly add a whole new level of complexity to the process. With a funky beat and dual vocals it got the crowd moving. 'Get You Back', also on the new album, is sultry and almost tortuously soulful. With a steady drumbeat and another minimalist solo with lots of echo/reverb/fuzz, I would have to concede that this is a sad sounding song. But in a haunting, compelling way. The simple solo becomes more and more intricate and the song finishes with strong dual vocals. To lighten the mood, Ariel admits that one happy song found its way onto the new album. 'Can't Stop Thinking About You' is still sultry but with a more up tempo beat that does allow a little sunshine into your life, and a little slide into your solo. Short but sweet, it is an obvious radio track. 'Better Late Than Never' is a sloooowwwww song that is likely to be the accompaniment to many a Valentine’s nights foray. Smoochie. Hello ladies. Closing track, and debut single is 'Fade', a funkier slide Blues that again is an all-round great song – well balanced and annoyingly catchy.
Disappearing briefly before returning for an encore, Posen dedicates his final song to his wife who, when talking him into moving to Ireland, opened him up to a whole new range of music. Including John Martyn who has had a huge influence on his music and songwriting. So how better to end a great night of music than with his cover of 'Angeline'. With an Irish lilt and slow almost ethereal slide guitar, it was a ten minute master class of tone. So what the Dickens was that opening paragraph all about? Well, I enjoyed Mr. P. so much that, two days later, I took myself off to the marvellous Tuesday Night Music Club, in the heart of Surrey’s Coulsdon, to see his Tuesday night performance. Twas indeed a Tale of Two Cities. I have a soft spot for the TNMC as it is a local venue that I have frequented for a number of different reasons, and is also indirectly responsible for my ‘journalistic’ life. But don’t hold that against it. Unexpectedly, Katy Hurt and Gaz showed up for an impromptu four song set before Ariel set the Surrey faithful alight with his excellent set. Same set, same quality. If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing twice.
There aren’t many artists I would see twice on the same tour but the Winnipeg/Long Island experience caught my interest and captured my soul. A broad range of music, and charming songs that hit home across the spectrum. Whilst my bag is usually Rock, Metal and Blues, tonight I discovered my softer side. Time to order some Viagra then. From Winnipeg to London, we had everything before us, It was the best of times.
Sistamamalover (Lenny Kravitz cover)
Things that I've said
Nothing from nothing (Billy Prseton cover)
I'll be finding you
Get you back
Can't stop thinking about you
Better late than never
Angeline (John Martyn cover)
Mother (photos courtesy of Bruce Biege)