It takes a lot to prise my lazy ass off the sofa on a nippy Sunday evening but the lure of an intimate night of quality Americana in the Kitchen Garden Cafe did the trick. After a typically miserable journey on the bus of the damned (aka the number 11) – just a 35 minute wait this time, cheers ‘Travel’ West Midlands – the Kitchen Garden Cafe was a particularly welcome sight. I’d not been here before but it’s a lovely venue, a real gem tucked away down York Road just a spit away (and on the opposite side) from the Hairy Hounds. Being a cafe and bar there was a superior choice of booze on offer compared with most gig venues, some nice ciders and a decent selection of wines too. Yeah I know...I’m a booze ponce. Sue me.
After settling down in the front row with a generous glug of Merlot Wooden Horse, Worcester duo Jamie and Ben, took to the floor (there’s no stage, like I say this is an intimate place) for the first of two sets. Both of them are clearly huge Americana and blues fans, evidenced by the impressive diversity of tracks that they covered over the next couple of hours or so and their obvious talent for penning equally strong material that stands up really well against the US imports. Having caught them at Moseley Folk Festival back in September, playing a brief set, tonight was more Wooden Horse – The Director’s Cut, a twenty plus collection of tracks played with real heart‘n’soul. Jamie’s a fine vocalist, equally at home with the blues belters or gospel tracks as he is on the more introspective stuff whilst fellow Horse Ben (and his seemingly endless supply of guitars) has a wonderfully instinctive playing style that makes it look deceptively easy. Tonight they had a little added boogie woogie too courtesy of a guy called Stuart / Stewart (delete as applicable...I forgot to check the spelling), which fleshed out some of the tracks nicely. For anyone unfamiliar with the blues a night with Wooden Horse is a fine introduction with some real crowd pleasers sprinkled in, whilst the more knowledgeable aficionados will appreciate the quality of the performances and song choices. Pick of the first set included a spirited rendition of I’ll Fly Away (from the gazillion selling O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack) and the self penned testifyin’ Hell Ain’t Going home, which manages to be both bluesy and darn catchy at the same time. The latter track in particular saw Jamie and Ben at their very best, with Jamie’s vocals exhibiting a bourbon barrel richness (y’know, that smoky warm feeling) and Ben plucking the bejesus out of his instrument.
After a bottle of wine we plumped for a hot chocolate and brownie. Yeah, how freakin’ rock n’ roll eh? Set things up nicely for an equally rich second half of the show though with arguably the band’s best track to date, Yonder Calling, which rattles along like a freight train on a mission. It ain’t all belting it out and stompin’ along though and the poignant He Was A Friend of Mine proved the duo’s equally at home pulling on the hearts strings as they are getting the feet tapping. A joyful clap along to Will The Circle Be Unbroken and a radical reboot of JJ Cale’s Crazy Mamma (featuring a snatch or two of the Baby, Please Don’t Go for good measure) capped off a hugely enjoyable evening all round. Didn't miss that sofa for a second!
Pictures courtesy of the lovely Richard Shakespeare aka Shakeypix