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Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker + Dietrich Strause

Venue: Red Lion Folk Club
Town: Birmingham
Date: 16/10/16

Singer/Songwriter Dietrich Strause is making his first visit to the U.K, having met Josienne and Ben in a hotel room in Kansas City, at the insane hiring fair that is Folk Alliance. Brought up in an Amish part of Pennsylvania, and of German decent, his work matches a gentle swing with sweet melancholy. A youthful veteran, his three albums, including the new release, the excellent 'How Cruel That Hunger Binds', are well worth checking out. A wryly effective singer and talented guitarist, his accompaniments are subtle and engaging, deftly picking out lead in lines between comping chords. His writing is strong and rich in imagery and metaphor, the contemporary Americana of 'Sling and Stone' (from a 2013 album) was particularly evocative. One to watch out for and some super material for those looking for interesting songs to cover.

What sets Josienne Clarke apart as a live performer is the cold-burning intensity she brings to her delivery; she shuts out the traffic and sirens outside and the noise of a bustling pub; as she puts herself entirely into the moment and become the song: her right hand clenched in passion against her breast or beating out the rhythm of the narrative. Ben Walker sits hunched over his guitar, taciturn but eloquent in his support, the odd smile and nuances of head positon indicative of the preternatural communication between the pair. He is an amazing guitarist, managing to simultaneously play both Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol parts in a cover of 'Fotheringhay', one of two Sandy Denny covers in the set, 'Bold Renardine' being the other.

Material is a mix of their rich back catalogue; including a superb rendition of 'It Would Not Be a Rose' and an Elgar vocal quartet 'As Torrents in Summer'; and their new album 'Overnight'. As the evening progressed, so Josienne, self-deprecating as ever, drew us into the concept of the album, a literal and metaphorical journey from evening to morning; inspirational and uplifting, culminating in the closing track 'Light of Day'. This was a recital of coherent charm and grace, a balm to the soul and a privilege to watch.

She came back for an encore, 'For All We Know', a powerful take on the Nina Simone track delivered with swing and sophistication.

A first rate evening from one of the best vocalists in any genre practicing today.

The pair have recently completed a North American tour and are currently touring the U.K. dates in October, culminating in Shoreditch Town Hall on 26th October with a host of special guests.

Andrew Sharpe

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