Live review: Celtic Connections: Roddy Woomble, Aoife O’Donovan at ABC, 26/1/14

roddyIt’s a credit to the organisers of Celtic Connections that you can show up with expectations of a Scottish themed evening only to be charmed by some heartfelt Americana.

Aoife O’Donovan and her band create a sound that clashes with the harsh Glaswegian weather – a genteel electric guitar washes over listeners like the waves of a sunny shore, while O’Donovan’s grinning vocal delivery is akin to a scorching day in the south of the States.

 

A song entitled ‘Red & White & Blue & Gold’ completes the American stereotype, which also includes multi-part harmonies and harmonica-led passages.

Ending her set by inviting mama O’Donovan on stage to assist with harmonies on ‘Oh, Mama’, Aoife’s set is a thoroughly warm wander through early morning meadows.

Roddy Woomble is a stark contrast – his three-piece band, including a stellar performance by fiddle player Hannah Fisher, feels infinitely more cosy, as if sitting by a fireplace in a Highland cottage.

Woomble himself is a charming presence, and having he and his band stay seated for the performance makes the show a laid back and relaxed one.

Indeed, during musical passages that don’t involve Woomble’s vocals, he’s happy to sit back in his chair and enjoy the music as if he were sitting in the crowd with the punters.

Sorren Maclean’s guitar work cannot be underplayed, especially on closing number ‘Old Town’ in which he makes one guitar sound as if there are two more accompanying him.

The main body of the setlist is fairly balanced between Woomble’s three full length releases, but while an Idlewild track is no rare thing in one of his solo shows, having three follow each other is rather special – ‘Quiet Crown’ is an already delicate track, made all the more fragile by this evening’s band setup; ‘You Held the World in Your Arms’ transforms into a completely different song with Fisher’s fiddle taking the lead melody, remaining upbeat but with a melancholic timbre; Warnings/Promises closer ‘Goodnight’, an already acoustic track, slips seamlessly into and belongs with Woomble’s solo material.

Kicking off the encore with an up-tempo instrumental jam is a welcome foot stomper, eliciting plenty of wooping from the crowd.

This is followed by a cover of John Prine’s ‘Speed of the Sound of Loneliness’, which sounds like it was written specifically for Woomble’s voice, and the closing crescendo of ‘Old Town’ is a lively way to be sent back into the Glaswegian coldness.

With Idlewild back in the studio, one can only hope that Woomble manages to strike a comfortable balance between the two acts, as his output in both continues to be both rich and rewarding.

Words: Scott Wilson

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