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Ryley Walker & Danny Thompson + Meg Baird

Venue: Philharmonic Music Room
Town: Liverpool
Date: 25/2/16

My favourite album of 2015 was, unquestionably, "Primrose Green" by young American guitarist Ryley Walker. On it, Ryley channels the great folk guitarists/singers of the late 1960's /early 1970's, specifically Bert Jansch, John Martyn, Nick Drake and Tim Buckley, all of whom are, sadly, no longer with us.

When I learned that Ryley was to play in Liverpool, I bought a ticket immediately, which was a good idea, as the show sold out in no time at all, such is Ryley's burgeoning reputation as one of the best acoustic guitarists around.

What put the icing firmly on the cake was the news that Ryley was to be joined by the legendary double bass player [and national treasure] Danny Thompson, who has, of course played alongside all of the aforementioned Bert, John, Nick and Tim, not forgetting the equally legendary Richard Thompson [no relation].

I felt obliged to tell Danny that the first "proper" concert I ever went to was by his band The Pentangle, on 9th October 1970, a mere 45 years ago!

As if seeing Ryley and Danny play together was not enough, the cherry on top of the icing on the cake was the fact that opening for them would be one of my favourite female folk singers, Meg Baird . I am a big fan of Meg's solo work and with the band Espers. Meg's latest venture is a San Francisco-based psychedelic folk-rock band called Heron Oblivion, whose debut album is due out on 4th March. From what I have already heard, it should be brilliant.

Meg took to the Music Room's stage with just her acoustic guitar for company but she delivered a stunning set, her serene, crystal-clear voice filling the room . If Ryley Walker wears his influences on his sleeve, then so does Meg. In her case it is the pioneering female folk-rock singers, such as Sandy Denny, Jacqui McShee [of Pentangle], Celia Humphris [of Trees] and Vashti Bunyan.

Meg complemented her own filigree compositions with a stunning cover of Jimmy Webb's "Do What You Gotta Do", which was written for the great soul singer Al Wilson but which was a big hit for The Four Tops.

Meg, with typical modesty, called herself "the luckiest folkie girl in the world" for being able to share the bill with two of her favourite musicians in Ryley and Danny.

An air of expectancy was present in the Music Room as the young folk guitar master took to the stage with the living legend of the double bass.

I had heard that Ryley is not one to stand still or rest on his laurels, and that he is constantly moving forward. Despite the fact that "Primrose Green" was only released last year, the first half of his set comprised all-new material from forthcoming releases [he told me that he will be releasing two albums this year].

New songs included "I Won't Ask You Twice", [of which the first line is "Playing footsie with Jesus"] and the superb "Funny Things She Said", which featured a raga-like introduction and bowed double bass from Danny. I suspect that this song may have reminded Danny of his time playing bass with the great Tim Buckley.

Ryley didn't eschew "Primrose Green" however, and played a brilliant trio of songs from that wonderful album, beginning with a passionate, powerful version of "Summer Dress", followed by an insistent rendition of the title track, which featured some impossibly fast finger picking as it rose to a crescendo. Great stuff.

For an encore, we were treated to a fabulous "On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee", which featured yet more astonishing guitar work from a guitarist who is clearly on fire and currently unstoppable. Can't wait for the next two albums!

Peter Cowley

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