Bill Mallonee / Dolly Varden / Julie Lee - Live in Comrie
Starting the proceedings, Julie Lee takes to the stage in the sold-out town hall. Despite living in Nashville and working with the likes of Alison Krauss, her songs avoid the clichés oft associated with Country Music's Mecca, and through her intricate fingerpicking, sets out to draw us further into the folksy roots of Americana. Her style at times reminds of Patty Griffin especially some of her vocal intonations as well as her earnest delivery whereas her writing parallels Kathleen Edwards' lovelorn ballads. The crowd take to her quite kindly despite an evident lack of familiarity with her material and her set rapidly passes by with a guest appearance from Bill Mallonee on the harmonica.
Stephen Dawson and Diane Christiansen (aka 2/5ths of Dolly Varden) subsequently arrive on the scene and set out to retune all their instruments with the crowd staring right at them. Undeterred by this, Diane launches into some surreal on-stage banter that helps to prepare the crowd for their unusual repertoire which mixes the Handsome Family's lyrical experimentation (as well as the marital bond) with pop-tinged tunes. With larger than life personalities and a few technical problems (such as the absence of a chair for playing the keyboard), they make do with what they have and establish an easy rapport with the audience. Their songs which, according to Stephen are "best understood through the filter of self-loathing", are also marvellously well-crafted and stand up well to the stripped-down acoustic arrangement with their two-voice harmonisation adding an extra depth when needed. Ending with a superb cover of the traditional tune Green Pastures, Dolly Varden prove themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the sprawling alt.country genre.
Dedicating "You still have the Devil left to pay" to George Bush (in case you're wondering, he's no fan of the Texan), Bill Mallonee appears as the missing link between punk and folk - as he thrashes his acoustic guitar, you can see embers of the early Dylan in his passionate vocal delivery along with an edge that even The Clash wouldn't have denied. Delivering his lyrics with a heart-on-the-sleeve verve, Mallonee's kicks off with a clutch of songs off his most famous CD, Audible Sigh. The acoustic setting is a relatively new one for Bill but the songs easily live up to their studio versions, thanks to some intricate guitar parts added by Jake Bradley. Feeling the audience pretty much on his side, he then takes the liberty of playing some unrecorded songs that may make it onto the next record (though a large amount of his output has yet to be recorded). With such a wealth of songs, Mallonee seems to find it hard to get all his standout tracks into a two-hour set but doesn't fail to play a spine-tingling rendition of Resplendent with Julie Lee singing Emmylou Harris' background vocals. After three hours of music, the five musicians join forces for the finale; with a cover of The Band's The Weight followed by a beautiful traditional gospel number, they bring the evening to a close with panache.
Read our interview with Bill Mallonee here
Read our interview with Dolly Varden here