With so many good acts on the live music scene it takes something special to stand out. Ma Polaine's stand out from the very start, particularly through vocalist Beth Packer's voice. It is extraordinary, having been compared to no less than Billie Holiday. That's a reputation to live up to but it was certainly achieved to a sold out Green Note for the launch of their second album "The Outsider".
Essentially a duo comprising Beth (vocals, bass and accordion) and Clinton Hough (guitar) they play blues with both jazz and country influences with lyrics that are as rich and dark as Beth's voice. This is the music of a smoky Parisian nightclubs, or Sally Bowles before Hollywood got hold of her. Love, if it appears at all, is not romantic but obsessive and poisonous, creeping through your veins to steal your souls.
'If I can't have you no one else will do, If I can't have you no one else will, I'd lose it all for you.'
Although it's a dystopian world the songs themselves have a real charm to them and just occasionally there's enough of a glimmer of hope. None of the songs are particularly up-tempo but that doesn't mean they're slowed paced, either. Ma Polaine's have hit that sweetspot where the words and music combine with a balance that's just right and keep that distinctive sound and style. It helps that all the songs on the album are self-penned, so everything is designed to fit.
The Green Note is well known as a listening venue, where talking during songs is actively discouraged, but on the night there was a silence and concentration in the audience that was palpable. Between the songs there was a chance to relax and listen to the stories behind the music. The performance was flawless as Beth moved effortlessly between bass and accordion. For the second set the duo were joined by Chris Redmond on drums, whose measured playing is what is a small venue added without competing.
The audience continued to listen with rapt attention and the calls for an encore, which started before the last note of the final song had faded were answered with a storming rendition of Minnie The Moocher. The audience joined in with gusto and we couldn't match the quality of Beth's scat vocals we more than made up for it with quantity. That isn't something that often happens at this venue and therefore stands as the biggest compliment that can be paid.
Ma Polaine's have shows coming up regularly, including festival dates, mainly around the south so if they head your way I would strongly recommend seeing them live In the meantime the album is now available through the website, Bandcamp or Amazon and is possibly best heard in a dimly lit room, leaning back with a good Bourbon by your side.
Words & Pics Tony Birch
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