Yola Carter / Imelda May

Perth Concert Hall
Saturday 30th July 2016


Sound:5 Atmosphere:5 Performance:5

I freely admit that I would walk through fire to hear Yola Carter sing. Southern Fried Festival continues to showcase marvels of crossover Americana and tonight was no exception. Yola’s voice is such that she really ought to be a Diva, but her interaction and chit-chatting with the audience stops that happening. Thank God she’s that down-to-earth and actually looks as though she’s enjoying herself. That’s because she is. Yola is backed by a country band, yet there is so much soul in her voice that it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Stax or Atlantic 45. I compare her voice to that of Judy Clay or Carla Thomas, but when she hits the turbo button she out-Turners Tina. Imagine her with a horn section instead of a fiddle behind her, and the set would move from Nashville to Memphis in a heartbeat. It was no surprise when, a few Southern Frieds ago, she came on stage to duet with the legendary Eddie Floyd – that’s the kind of voice she has, it’s made for R&B but it blasts country into orbit.

And yet she’s English. From Bristol, already.The backing is incredibly polished, the band expert, and when her two guitarists provide vocal harmony, it has something of the quality of the Punch Brothers. If you caught the STV news broadcast the previous Thursday, you will have heard a snatch of an unplugged song of hers – ‘Heed My Words’. I was there when they filmed it, and I had the song as an earworm all day after that. Performed with the band, the song is mournful and wistful, and recalls Samantha Crain’s ‘If I Had A Dollar’, but bleaker and in triple time. Her ‘Free To Roam’, played late in the set, came the closest to pure soul, and that’s when the Carter-Turner Overdrive cut in and blew the audience away. No time for an encore, though, as the evening was running on a schedule…

Imelda May was unknown to me, except from publicity photos and one track. I deliberately kept it that way before the performance, because I wanted to be surprised. I just wasn’t ready for what did explode onto the stage. Gone were the 1940s waitress-fetish outfits and the kiss-curl – gimmicks, distractions, whatever – and onto a stage full of ghoulish purple and deep red lighting came a black-haired young woman in a little-black-dress, fishnets, and boots, who could shimmy like nobody’s sister Kate! The fetish was thrown away, the actual sexual power was ramped up beyond toleration. The sound was gothabilly laced with blues and country, with surprising shots of jazz trumpet, and here and there a dash of – what? – mambo. Imelda’s voice, imagine Rachel Sweet all grown-up and on NZT-48 – look, I’m sorry, I do this in these reviews, I spend a lot of time comparing artistes to other artistes, it’s because I’m very old, and I have no intention of stopping – until yet another turbo button is pushed and extra power and range is unleashed.

The backing band on the night was tight as an Olympic-standard bowstring, basic, and rocking. The lead guitarist (yeah here I go again) reminded me of Paul Burlison, Link Wray, or Dick Dale, but again with a full tank of cognitive enhancer. The set was fantastic, less chit-chat than Yola Carter gave, until the point where Imelda felt she knew us, and any distance the gothic black may have created just dissolved. Of course her hit ‘Johnny’s Got A Boom Boom’ came near the end, and why not! But recognising a track I had heard was simply no big deal. I loved her upbeat stuff with the slap bass pounding away, but her slower numbers really took hold of me in a way I hadn’t expected. There was Willie Dixon’s ‘Spoonful’, played at zero mph – and I mean zero miles per hour Kelvin! Imelda expressed trepidation at playing a new song, but encouraged by the audience she did, her voice mellowing as she gave us heartbreak…

When you cry,
Cry for the living
Not for the dying,
Soon I’ll be free.

I’m flying home,
That’s where I’m going.
Cry for the living,
Don’t cry for me…

…though the second half of the set was mainly methanol-fuelled rock. For an encore, Imelda came back on stage after her bass player, who had tipped his bass onto its side and was sitting on it playing softly on a Ukelele. She sat down beside him, got half of the room to sing very softly the ‘Doo-de-doos’ from Lou Reed’s ‘Take A Walk On The Wild Side’, while the other half repeated the words ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, and then delivered her song with our accompaniment, making us integral to the performance. I would now walk through fire to hear her sing too. I suggest you do the same. See Yola Carter, see Imelda May, at any available opportunity. If you don’t have an opportunity, bloody well make one! I have no superlatives. I am running out of stars to give. There are not points enough for sound, atmosphere, and performance. If I could give six stars I would. End of.

Reviewed : Paul Thompson 

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