Alison Brown, Low Lily, & Lucie Hendry Trio – Celtic Connections – City Halls – January 26, 2014.

Written by on January 31, 2024

ALISON BROWN

LOW LILY

Scottish lever harpist Lucie Hendry, with guitarist Dennis Iversen, and drummer Christoffer Skovhus opened the proceedings with a folk/jazz fusion set blending Scottish folk influences with a mixture of jazz styles mainly tending to the jazz-rock side.

It’s unusual to hear a harp in this kind of context, but Lucie’s rippling runs and fast precise picking skillfully wove around the the dense jazz chordings and John McLaughlin-esque lines generated by Iversen’s Gibson 335. Backing them up was the expert drumming and percussion of Christoffer Skovhus – who has to be one of the best drummers in the festival.

Arrangements were tight and crisply executed, while the musical content alternated between lush musical colour landscapes and straight ahead jazz rock, blending influences, as noted, of Mahavishnu-period McLaughlin and Larry Coryell. Highlights for me were a pulsating jazz-rock piece called The Warning, and a segmented little number called The Story of Job, in the middle of which Skovhus broke into a short but stunning drum solo in 5/8 time. An excellent start to the evening.

By way of complete contrast, next up was Vermont-based American Roots band LOW LILY. Their set was taken largely from their recent album, Angels in the Wreckage, blending bluegrass, country, and mainstream popular music influences into a very pleasing whole. The long-term core of the band is husband and wife team singer/guitarist Liz Simmons, whose 2021 solo release Poets gained rave reviews, and guitar/mandolin virtuoso Flynn Cohen – who, at the beginning of his professional career, studied with legends John Renbourn and Davey Graham. Just before the recording of the album, the band’s fiddler Lissa Schneckenburger decided to withdraw from touring, and award-winning fiddler Natalie Padilla stepped up to take her place as a full-time member of the band.

For this tour, they were accompanied on contra-bass by Berklee alumna Hazel Royer. This is a band with serious musical credentials. The instrumental side of things was beautifully balanced on the night by their vocal strengths, both as solo singers and in the form of tight bluegrass harmonies. Title of the night had to go to Flynn’s merry little mandolin instrumental Keep the Pachysandra Flying – inspired by reading George Orwell. To go with the unusual title, it was in an unusual time signature of 10/8 – which tended to confuse the foot-tapping its infectious rhythm provoked. While Simmons-Flynn songs made up the bulk of the set, Natalie Padilla compositions made strong contributions, notably a very sweet tune Montana Wild Flowers, and her song about the stories and people in her ancestry, Captivate Me – a near-chant over warmly textured music that created an impression of children being told a bedtime tale of past glories.

Other high points were Liz Simmons’ song Lonely, about the break-up of a relationship, and a composition by West Coast eccentric (he once wrote a song in praise of tofu!) Rushad Eggleston, Long Distance Love (not the Little Feat song). The band finished up, to warm applause, with an eerily lilting version of the supernatural ballad House Carpenter from their early (2015) eponymous EP, Low Lily. A very satisfying and well-rounded set.

After the break, ALISON BROWN came on and played a fiery solo mélange of Oh, Susanna and Beautiful Dreamer at what sounded like several hundred notes per minute. The lady can play – as could the band!

Joining her on bass and lead vocals, as ever, was her husband, Garry West. Flutes were expertly handled by Chris Ragusa. Chris Walters showed some amazing jazz skills on piano as did former Gary Burton collaborator Jordan Perlson on drums.

The programme could only be described as eclectic. Lounge jazz, Brazilian beats, Beatles numbers, and Pop ballads all were aired on the night, plus a couple of tributes, one folky, one poppy, to the late John Hartford made an appearance.

A very laid-back version of Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin’ mainly focussed on West’s smooth vocals, but was given a strong underlying pulse via Brown’s double-time banjo. That was followed by one of the night’s highlights, samba-flavoured ‘Choro Nuff that let both Brown and Ragusa show off their prodigious skills. Here Comes the Sun elicited a ripple of applause when the audience recognised that unmistakeable George Harrison riff, as did Cyndi Lauper’s Time after Time. Two sides of John Hartford’s legacy were shown in the reverent treatment of his Grammy Award winning Gentle on My Mind, and his folky banjo number Foggy Morning Breaking – whose title, Alison Brown pointed out was a tongue-in-cheek poke at Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

What I found surprising about the set was the extent to which Brown stepped into the background on many of the songs, letting husband Garry West take the vocal limelight and, at several points, deferring musically to Chris Walters’ piano and Chris Ragusa’s selection of flutes. Although she was billed as the headliner, she seemed quite happy just to be one of the band – but it was an excellent band.

Bob Leslie


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