Dan Wilson of Withered Hand is absolutely one of the most interesting songwriters around; he recently collaborated to write and record with Barcelona-based a Singer of Songs during a week at an organic farm ‘in the middle of nowhere’ near Barcelona.
Over three dates in Edinburgh, Crail and Glasgow, the two launched the resulting EP Among Horses, which was released via Spanish label Son Canciones on May 5.
Martha Ffion opens the gig with a wonderful solo set; without a band, the bones of her songs and especially her lyrics, seem to stand out a little bit more.
There’s a bitter sweetness in her words and the way they’re sung that gives Ffion’s songwriting this mournfully sarcastic bite beneath her soothing, sugary melodies.
Her set was kind of unflinching, while singing about feelings being consequential, and with lyrics like, “it must have been so hard for you with all the growing up you had to do” and “missing you, like I’m supposed to,” this element of directness in Ffion’s music along with the cushioning of her gently lilting vocals and almost doo-wop style, is an intriguing combination, and it was cool to see her playing her songs solo.
A Singer of Songs then plays a set of songs that are thoughtful and raw; his music mixes nostalgia and honesty with slow Americana-type melodies.
In between songs he makes jokes and shares intimate stories about his songwriting experiences, which the crowd seem to enjoy.
At the end of the set Withered Hand and he play two songs that feature on their collaborative EP, which goes down well, it is evident that a Singer of Songs is an very able guitar player, and his voice is strong over inventive songs about disappointing relationships.
The fact he’s found a way to make music from some of these situations is laudable, I would be curious to hear him again with a full band.
Withered Hand headlines the show and also plays solo, until the last few songs where Leven of a Singer of Songs joins in for some older material as well as for the new material from the Among Horses EP.
There is something affecting in Withered Hand songs that seems undemanding but intricate in its expression; his guitar work is excellent, the talent Wilson has in his voice and lyrics gives the heavyhearted topics he writes about some kind of grace, as he handles metaphors alongside frank, emotive statements in an insightful way.
At one point in the set he mentions having a sore throat, but what was unfortunate for his throat and health turned out to be quite fortunate in the manner that songs like ‘California’, with its desperate sounding chorus “I keep sippin’ on the tussin like I’m sick again” and ‘Horseshoe’, from last album New Gods, which seem to gain something from his strained vocals – not to mention it results in some really lovely moments of audience participation.
The set includes songs like ‘No Cigarettes’ and ‘Religious Songs’, a crowd favourite, which Wilson jokes to only be using a setlist so he wouldn’t forget to play.
It is an exceptional gig. If you haven’t heard Withered Hand before, please do look him up, have a listen or go to a show.
Words: Jason Riddell
Photos: Claire Heimlich