A much-anticipated show at this fine all-purpose venue, opening tonight with the passionate performance and emotionally powerful ballads of Dan Owen. First track ‘Icarus’ immediately pulled the audience in and with his warm anecdotes and a barnstorming blues rendition of ‘Little Red Rooster’ he set the positive tone for the evening.
After many years of performing and a long career break, County Affair are a four-piece having a second life promoting an Abbey Road recorded album of a new batch of Americana songs. The tracks deal with eternal country music themes, joined with a likeable background of accordion, keys, guitar and percussion.
Ward Thomas started with the low-key duet ‘Dear Me’ and as soon as they segued into the descending vocal harmonies in the chorus of ‘No Fooling Me’ and the bitter-sweetness of ‘Cartwheels’ we knew that the emotional and musical magic was all in place. With varying amounts of input from their empathetic band this was a fantastic set, balanced between the pop oriented songs of 2019’s ‘Restless Minds’ album and the big country ballads such as ‘Guilty Flowers’ and the stomping ‘I Believe In You’ as well as the heart-tearing ‘Someday’ and ‘One More Goodbye’. With final encore ‘Safe’ performed as just a duo the show had gone full circle as the harmonies gently floated in the air.
The fourth album from alt-country duo Ward Thomas sees them infusing their sound with contemporary pop to great effect. Opener ‘Sweet Time’ is as uplifting a track as you could hear; especially with the accompanying video of the sisters and friends cycling on a summer day and when they are singing ‘……sipping on champagne stars and slowing down the speed of light…’ all is indeed well with the world.
‘Don’t Be A Stranger’ and ‘Open Your Mind’ keep the pace up but the waltzing ‘Someday’ stops the show. It is a torch song fully using the gorgeous harmonies that roll up to a summit before fading away then reaching the big string-backed chorus ‘….don’t say you love me yet…darling I’m still too scared…’. Gorgeous.
‘Meant To Be Me’ and ‘Hold Space’ are reflections of aspects of current chart pop with acapella interlude ‘Dear Me’ showcasing the voices again. ‘Wait Up’ recalls aspects of their earlier albums sound while full-on Bond theme ‘My Favourite Poison’ is a sweeping strings soundscape.
The last two tracks are quiet and thoughtful with the sisters delicate and gentle harmonies in the forefront of the mainly acoustic backings.
There is more – three bonus cover versions, starting with ‘Halfway’, a rousing duet with James Blunt and a song reminiscent of Ward Thomas crowd pleasers at their live shows. ‘Human’ with Jack Savoretti is a countrified live rendition of The Killers’ song with an angelic vocal arrangement and the finale of Fleetwood Mac classic ‘Landslide’ is as good as a cover of a classic song should be.
A new EP from UK country-pop duo Ward Thomas, collecting together some recently pre-released songs and a new gem…
1. Hold Space. As reviewed on this site previously ‘… a well balanced union of a melody that holds the song without over-elaborate instrumentation and of course features the sisters’ sparkling harmonies. A straightforward lyric makes the point very effectively as it describes how to be there for someone who may be struggling emotionally…’
2. Someone to Someone. In many ways this is a low key and mellow EP, with an emphasis on acoustic instruments and the controlled expressive power of the vocals to deliver the thoughtful musings. Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas are joined on this track by acclaimed singer/songwriter Dan Owen, trading lines and sharing harmonies before building up to the big chorus.
3. Landslide. I have heard many live covers of ‘Dreams’ in recent years but in my opinion this is a superior song from Fleetwood Mac’s 70s heyday. This jewel is a stunning version; vulnerable and melancholic with harmonies that pull every essence of emotion from the lyric and leave the listener overwhelmed. Gorgeous.
4. Painted Legacy. After being turned inside out by the poignant mood of the previous track, this is another subtly restrained but very moving piece. The words express both a specific and generalised meditation on losing a loved one and how their whole life can have so much impact.
It is a lovely gentle melody interweaving with choice lyrical phrases ‘….brings alive my memories of how you spun pure gold out of the dust… I can’t bear to see you go somewhere far where I can’t follow….’. Concise and unhurried this fine song brings the brilliant EP to an end.
‘Hold Space’ is a new song from UK country-pop duo Ward Thomas, building on the reputation of their acclaimed 2019 ‘Restless Minds’ album and it will be included on a forthcoming EP.
It is a well balanced union of a melody that holds the song without over-elaborate instrumentation and of course features the sisters’ sparkling harmonies. A straightforward lyric makes the point very effectively as it describes how to be there for someone who may be struggling emotionally. They recently supported James Blunt on his UK Arena Tour which probably opened up a whole new audience but I think I preferred seeing them headlining a stunning sellout show in the intimate setting of the Cambridge Junction last March.
The duo have now rescheduled their acoustic tour for September this year.
NZCA Lines is a London based electronic duo who I first heard when they released a lush bit of synth-pop and nearly hit called ‘Two Hearts’ in 2015. As I often do I was initially attracted by the band name, inspired by the giant animal patterns in the Peruvian desert only visible from the air. This new track ‘Real Good Time’ features on an album ‘Pure Luxury’ due in July; this time the keyboards and beat have been simultaneously pumped up then unravelled as well as featuring unpredictability in the vocal sounds. The influence of some of the looser party-groove tracks by Prince weaves its way through too; it is a winning combination of out-there funk and elegant electrics.
‘Rise’ is another super single from folk-country four-piece Molly & The Moon, a follow-up to heartbreaking ballad ‘Cold Is The Night’.
This song is very much an anthem of positivity, probably it would be perfectly placed as a finale to a live set (when those days come again…). Driven throughout by a pulsing rhythm guitar over a recurring and reassuring bass the lyrics refer to the inevitable passing of time ‘….can’t stop the sun from falling over the edge of the horizon…‘ but counteracted by the optimism ‘…as the sun will rise once more…‘. With extra band harmonies, the rich tones of keyboard and the continuing subtle but complex percussion pattern ‘Rise’ builds nicely to the grand final chorus – showing that there is plenty going on instrumentally in this song to add to Molly’s excellent vocal performance.
A sell-out Cambridge crowd arrived early for the appearance at the Junction of two rising stars of UK Alt-Country music. Opening the show were The Wandering Hearts, with the central trio augmented by extra guitar and upright bass. First song ‘Fire And Water’ had the immediacy of many of their tracks, with a tight, rhythmic verse turning into a huge chorus. The combination of two female and one male voice gives their spot-on harmonies the lustre and depth of classic period Fleetwood Mac, shown off especially in the airy, ethereal ‘Burning Bridges’. There is a harder edge to ‘Rattle’ and finale ‘Devil’ is a pacey, pounding crowd-pleaser with a redemptive hookline. An excellent start to the show and the Junction’s sound system has never sounded better?!
Ward Thomas are riding high on the impact and chart placing of their third album ‘Restless Minds’ and tonight they featured all but one of its tracks. Twin sisters Cathy and Lizzy play acoustic guitars and blend their voices in harmony to mesmerising effect, as well as trading solo lines and responses. Combined with a band that can switch from subtle acoustic backing to a big part-electronic contemporary sound Ward Thomas have structured an immaculate show.
Some of the songs on the new LP are reflections of modern mores and impacts on the individual; the nurturing of social media self-appearance on opener ‘Lie Like Me’ and a longing for the removal of these new conventions on ‘No Filter’ and ‘Same Love’. These ideas make for bold pop songs, delivered with power, but for me the emotional core of the show is the resigned melancholy of the ballads spread through the set. From the betrayal symbolised by ‘Guilty Flowers’ to the beautiful melody and despair of ‘Hopeless’ (a song I saw them perform during their ’15 cities in 3 days’ in-stores promotional tour!), they sing from the heart.
‘Little Girl Sorrow’ is a waltz with an undercurrent of optimism and best of all is the gospel chords and big chorus of ‘One More Goodbye’. They introduced this as one of their favourite songs; I’m not surprised, it is one of mine too, it is brilliant.
It is not all wrenching at the heart and mind; ‘It’s Not Just Me’ is an up tempo acceptance of the world set to a warm and positive instrumental backing and ‘I Believe In You’ is a celebratory and glorious three minutes. Lots more highlights too including their debut LP being represented by a medley of faster songs which shows how their sound has developed over their three albums.
An encore of the pensive, thoughtful ‘This Too Will Pass’ was followed by a grand finale, with The Wandering Hearts back on stage to add to the vocals on a scorching performance of signature anthem ‘Carry You Home’…..still resonating with me now as is the rest of this memorable show.