February 11, 2018
You could forgive Lauren Stovall for saying how nice it was to be in the ‘village’ of Selby. She was a little wide of the mark: it has a population of over 15,000 (plus a McDonalds for heaven’s sake!) There again in the USA what we’d describe as a village they call a city.
The Railsplitters were approaching the last week of their UK tour after having been on the road since early January. They started in Australia and this was their third visit to our shores. They describe themselves as Bluegrass. However, a quote I stole, places them as more ‘Crosby, Stills & Grass’. I think in part that works fine.
As a local resident then how the delightful Selby Town Hall got a Colorado string acoustic quintet to play is still something of a surprise to me. Being sold out must be a joy for any visitors to discover. Judging by the audience’s lack of familiarity with any of the catalogue then I have to disclose that I expect most concert goers had bought tickets for a season of music, which included Boulder’s finest.
The band was slow to warm up, it wasn’t until their third song that they hit their stride and we got to hear Stovall’s fabulous and pure voice on “Lessons I’ve Learned” from their excellent third album, Jump In. The small, elderly and very wooden clad venue necessitated a minimum of amplification and the sound was very close to the albums. For the most part you could hear a pin drop as the 150 or so sat enrapt.
The accomplishment of the musicians and the seemingly democratic approach to how the band works was evident. The bass of Jean-Luc Davis held it together whilst the mandolin (Pete Sharpe), banjo (Dusty Rider) and violin (Joe D’Esposito) took various leads. Three of the 18 songs were instrumentals. The band covered all their three albums and threw in a couple of covers. On the latter Stovall asked “How many Dillard fans are in tonight?” As the tumbleweed rolled across the stage she gulped, recovered and said “oh well, there’s 5 on the stage!”
It was her voice and, on occasion, three part harmonies with Rider and Sharpe that enthralled. My particular highlight was “Everyone She Meets”. However, “Planted On The Ground”, “You” and “Where You Are” were memorable. The song structures are very melodic with the strings picking up the tune whilst Stovall’s guitar strummed rhythm. The interplay between banjo and mandolin was sensational and the amplified mandolin often mimicked an electric lead guitar.
Humour and bonhomie abounded on stage. It was pointed out that Jean-Luc had no French or Canadian connection and so why was he called this? The band volunteered ‘false’ facts between songs. The person who could identify which one it was could claim a free CD. I’m not sure which one it was but Joe D’Esposito claiming to be a Swansea City fan seemed as improbable as Pete Sharpe having been struck by lightning.
So after a couple of joyous sets they did the obligatory North American touring band put down of Donald Trump and launched into the traditional Bluegrass “Fly Around My Pretty Miss”. After this encore they were gone into the cold dark night and some other small town in the UK awaited.
(I have to be fair! Stovall, later in the second set, did work out that as they were playing at Selby Town Hall she’d been wrong about the ‘village’ and was gracious to concede and volunteer ‘Hey, I’m American!’ The audience loved her for that).