Transatlantic Sessions - Colston Hall, Bristol
If you’re not familiar with the concept of Transatlantic Sessions you probably haven’t been watching BBC Four. Not many do. The sessions have run on the BBC on and off since 1995, and this Anglo-American collaboration does exactly what it promises: Brit and US folk, traditional and modern, performed by a healthy mix of performers.
Over the years a starry cast has graced the stage, and for this tour the nominal headline acts are Americana greats Patty Griffin and Rodney Crowell. Having just finished shows at Celtic Connections, there is an unsurprising focus on that celtic brand of folk. Led by Shetlander Aly Bain and Ohio native Jerry Douglas, the seventeen-piece ensemble provides several fiddles, plenty of guitars, a double bass, piano, flute/piccolo, and a collection of celebrated singers - more than enough variety to cover a multitude of inspirations: bluegrass, Gaelic, country, folk, and a touch of blues.
The Colston Hall stage is constantly awash with musicians; when they’re not playing there are a couple of sofas that act as an onstage green room where the vocalists spend the majority of their time. The show's three hour length means that each of the singers get four to five songs each; the aforementioned Crowell, whose gruff ‘Till I Gain Control Again’ is a highlight, and Griffin are joined by fiddler-vocalist Sara Watkin, Devonian John Smith, and softly spoken Scotswoman Kathleen MacInnes.
The Americana of Crowell and Griffin is only a part of the show though. Gaelic sung Scottish folk songs (including a hymn and a folk tale about the Stone of Destiny), modern(ish) folk from Smith, and plenty of instrumentals with roots in traditional folk are the core. The stand outs of the night come from outside the main guests: Dirk Powell's fantastic ode to his home state of Louisiana ‘Waterbound’, and bluegrass string man Tim O’Brien leading the outfit in a gospel-ly jam, reading the lyrics from a sheet of paper as he went. It was that kind of relaxed, impromptu evening and it was all the better for it.