Although we’re now entering July everything still feels like spring. The sense of coming up for air, and shaking sleep and fuzziness out of eyes and head, is both unmistakable and reassuring. We may not be out of the Covid woods but we are resuming the activities brutally curtailed in March two years ago. Joyously travel and music, and more so their combination, are back on the agenda. Red Rooster happened a couple of weeks back, this last weekend Maverick Festival, and next weekend, coming up fast, is Static Roots.
I wrote the story of Static Roots back in January 2020 just as the first names were being announced for the following July and everything seemed set fair for another grand Oberhausen weekender. Ah ashes and sand! However Dietmar Leibecke has persisted, held the faith – plus a few smaller nights with folk like Peter Bruntnell and The Delines in the interim – so that iteration five of this splendid festival is now belatedly about to happen. Pleasingly the majority of artists initially mooted will still be there, and all-in-all, as ever, the festival offers a strong and diverse line-up.
As is usual, and adding value, the Static Ruhr Tour provides a prelude to proceedings for early arrivals with an excursion to one of the many fascinating industrial sites of the Ruhr valley. A trip, a good lunch, a bit of culture, and back in good time for Friday’s start.
The evening begins with a pair of Canadians; Sarah Jane Scouten and Zachary Lucky. Sarah has recorded four albums over the last decade, the most recent being Confessions which garnered comparisons to Emmylou’s Wrecking Ball, and certainly carried ambient country elements, a little bit of a Gainsbourg influence, and a fine setting of Tennyson’s Crossing The Bar. Zachary meanwhile is an unashamedly old-school country singer-songwriter in the Townes mould, equally at home with original and traditional material. His recent Songs For Hard Times highlights the latter with powerful takes on such as ‘Hang Me’ Oh Hang Me’ and ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’.
Dean Owens is a late, but welcome, addition to the line-up. His soulful blend of Scottish folk influences and Americana stylings come allied to a happy facility for writing impressive songs that only grow in stature with repeated listenings. He’s recorded with luminaries Will Kimbrough and Neilson Hubbard, and he’s backed by guitarist Jim Maving last spotted at Static Roots with Don Gallardo. Then comes Gabi Garbutt & The Illuminations; probably this year’s wild card . Their debut album The Discredited Language Of Angels arrived in tandem with the pandemic, and they’ve now a second equally impressive release in Cockerel. Witnessed at their album launch in Dalston a few weeks back they share the spark and intensity of Dexys or The Libertines and will surely shake up the night. The Friday bill is completed by The Barflies from Kilkenny filling this year’s Willie Meighan memorial slot.
Saturday brings another strong selection with two Loose Music bands in Native Harrow and Treetop Flyers. The former – the duo of Deven Tuel and Stephen Harms – now relocated from Pennsylvania to Sussex, initially created waves with what was their third album Happier Now carrying auras of Laurel Canyon, then followed it up with Closeness which found them employing a wider more exploratory palette. The Flyers meanwhile are long-established scions of the UK alt-country scene; as the name indicates they’ve always had west coast leanings but importantly always more. Their eponymous third album from 2018 would find them both dipping into a Muscle Shoals style sound and letting their freak flag fly in the extended ‘Art Of Deception’ while last autumn’s Old Habits had them mining a more English ‘cusp of the seventies’ vibe drawing Winwood and Lane comparisons.
There’s another Canadian, by way of Scotland, in Evangeline Gentle; a self-titled debut, notably produced by Jim Bryson, unveiled a rich and lush vibrato, and a stylistic range taking in both roots and pop. An acappella single featuring a singular ‘Black Is The Colour’ followed, and wherever their path leads it will surely be intriguing.
Texan cow-punkers The Vandoliers fly the flag for what was once called insurgent country. Poised at the start of 2020 for a live onslaught supporting their Bloodshot release Forever like many they were overtaken by events, but on the verge of a new album, and with songs like the celebratory ‘Every Saturday Night’ already previewed they have come through and should be raring to go.
For many years, and across a series of strong records Pete Gow was the singer, and main songwriter, of Case Hardin; also worth remarking, Jim Maving was their guitarist. Since their amicable demise Pete has notched up two impressive solo collections; Leo and Here There’s No Sirens; and with invaluable assistance from Joe Bennett of The Dreaming Spires, augmented by the Siren Strings, presents a memorable live extravaganza.
And then there’s Robert Jon & The Wreck who’ll simply try and take the top off the old zinc factory. For a decade now they’ve been turning out a mighty meld of blues and southern rock, and after two months in Europe and a slew of gigs they’ll be well road-honed.
The fun won’t end there as there’s an after-party mooted with more of The Barflies, plus you can be assured that folk will gather long into the night on the terrace, accompanied by increasingly ragged but right impromptu singalongs. The whole thing starts next Friday, and even if you’ve made no plans yet they’ll undoubtedly squeeze you in and you’ll never regret it.