23 July 2017, Sitting Room Sessions, Red Barrel Winery
Another ‘sitting room’, another Sitting Room Session. Jamie Macphail has sent out the invitation and there’s the many familiar faces, the few new ones, who come whenever he calls, to wherever he says. This time we’re at Red Barrel, along the dark main road out from The Village towards the black of the hills, onwards to the invisible river. The sky is clear, bright stars. The mood is reverential, almost sombre. It’s a Sunday night.
We’re here to hear Reb Fountain. That voice found on The Eastern albums. Here she is, flesh and bone, pared down in tight jeans, plain black, so sylph-like it’s as if her heavy boots are the only thing holding her here. Those and that voice. At her very essence, she’s a balladeer in the American mould. She’s a hard-working, long-travelling songstress. She shapes her sound like it’s precious metal. Each ounce worth the work. As if she’s forming a truth from a pure thought, as if it’s down to her to give the substance life and gift it to us, in such a way that we understand what a treasure it is.
The shape of each song is exact, no wastage, nothing left off, nothing left over. And her bone-like fingers shape each chord, each strum. She holds certain long notes with such clarity that any hepped up energy can only be seen in a tiny movement in her right-hand wrist.
There’s a shape too to the set. These songs begin all autobiography, then turn political – here is the agenda – then dissipate into a darkness, those secret inner workings. Reb is so much inside each word and each note that when she stops to breathe, to speak, she looks up, slowly moves her hair back behind her ear and seems surprised to see us, in front of her. She asks how we are, as if she just noticed we were there at all.
Reb’s heritage is evident in her leaning towards country. Lyrics hint: “I grew up on cowboy songs and folk tunes and hymns”. Her first track of the night sums up her voice in the chorus “Bright Fine Gold”. She’s gifted us this set as just that. In 500 Miles she delivers the story, the phrasing and even the whistle of a far-off train, and it forces the tune down the track along your spine. It’s visceral, you’re helpless to stop its full-body effect. I cried.
The range she affects in Strangers is glorious and shows the flexibility and skill of this performer who so often is there in ‘support’ and ‘back up’ roles. But there’s more than just a performer here, there’s a poet, and a translator of the human condition. There’s something raw and dark – lonely – and a sadness that is beginning to transform into a tougher, stronger self.
Reb Fountain is back in September with a tribute to Nick Cave – The Boy Next Door – as part of the HBAF. Special mention must be made of her current Boosted campaign to bring life to a very special vinyl project honouring her musical partner Sam Prebble who died last year.
For this Sitting Room Session Reb was supported by Tom Cunliffe. His lyrics and melodies bring to mind Don McGlashan circa 1997, down to the strawberry blond curly quiff. Tom’s range is remarkable from the exquisite This Table is a River, through to the fun and funny, almost slam poetry, I’ve Been Bitten, through to the outstandingly beautiful duet Mad Dogs Play sung with Reb Fountain as she lends her voice to his in precious harmony.