As Karl Blau delves deep into the archives to stamp his personality onto country music classics, Getintothis’ Paul Higham finds a Leaf audience receptive to his talents.
Country music can have an unfair reputation, one that is easily parodied and often derided. As a style it lends itself to the pastiche and leaves itself open to the ever-ready stereotype. Attempts to transcend the genre can sometimes land flat.
The resurgent Americana revival movement of the early noughties ultimately fell victim to a smothering blandness. A plethora of acts doing little but cover already well-trodden territory, offering little to advance the cause.
Yet there is something different about Karl Blau.
Imbued with a captivating magnetism he is easily capable of ducking any arrows of derision. Not that any were so aimed tonight. For despite a performance that leant heavily on the country music covers from his 2016 Introducing… LP, this was a set characterised by the weight of his personality, his deftness of touch and the quality of his band.
Blau is more than just a country music singer. His extensive back catalogue reveals a forward-looking experimenter, a restless talent whose music draws on a diverse range of influences including folk, jazz, ambient drone and hip hop. Yet little of that was evident here; Blau shunned his eclectic tendencies to deliver a tightly-hewn set of impassioned country music that was as selectively curated as it was sympathetically delivered.
A tenderness and emotional integrity remained throughout. His sense of song-craft lending a power and a soulful gravitas to a range of well-chosen reinterpretations. His band worked a treat too, behatted drummer and steel guitarist swapping positions while retaining a steady rhythmical hand and elegiacally mournful resonance.
For these were affecting songs sensitively reimagined, performed with care and emotion. A feeling of wondrous discovery hung heavily in the air. Of Blau delving deep into the crates and being enthralled and entranced by his own findings – something he was easily and effortlessly able to convey.
Opening with Don Gibson‘s Woman Sensuous Woman his ability to inhabit the songs became apparent. Such was his ease, for the unaware it would barely be noticeable that much of the night was comprised of covers. That’s How I Got To Memphis in particular dripped with a wracked poignancy while the lovelorn loneliness of Townes Van Zandt‘s If I Needed You shone through with a near unbearable sadness. As the kids say, he owned them.
His own songs stood worthy comparison. The dub-influenced Slow Children, introduced by recounting the memory of his childhood pet cat having been run-over, was given a country make-over while Mockingbird Diet was delivered with compelling urgency.
The Leaf audience proved that Liverpool remains receptive to country music. Respectful and reverential, the sense of admiration grew increasingly fervent, culminating in rapturous adulation; those seated rising in sustained applause as the two song ‘encore’ (the band never actually left the stage) drew to a close.
Blau seemed surprised and overwhelmed at the reaction. He made promises of a return trip to these shores and on the basis of this showing alone it will be one to look forward to.
Opening the night was Astles, a prodigious and mercurial young Merseyside talent. His vocal delivery, if slightly overwrought, was grippingly entrancing, filling every inch of the high-ceilinged space with his introspective melancholia. Indeed his brief set was heavily laden with existential angst and inconsolable yearning.
Despite his youth, this was hardly typical throwaway teenage fare. Set over minimalist yet impeccably judged electric guitar playing, there was a profound slowcore influence and the memory of Red House Painters were never far away.
In alluding to songwriting difficulties and the challenges of meeting his own high standards, his music hints at both self-doubt and self-awareness. Notwithstanding, there is an overriding sense of assured maturity coupled with a curious confidence to lay himself bare that promises to stand him in good stead and suggests a bright future.
Mockingbird by Karl Blau live at Leaf on Bold St.
Posted by Getintothis on Saturday, 18 February 2017
Photos by Getintothis‘ Chris Flack.