Club Uncut @ The Great Escape: Alela Diane/ The Secret Sisters/ Olof Arnalds/ Jo Bartlett, Pavilion Theatre, Brighton, May 14 2011
Club Uncut’s final night in Brighton can’t quite match the high of Josh T. Pearson’s performance on Friday, but a strong, diverse bill of female talent doesn’t disappoint.
Jo Bartlett is best known as half, with Danny Hagan, of folk-pop duo It’s Jo And Danny. The couple have spent the last few years running the Green Man festival, but Barttlett’s solo debut Upheaval is a promising return to what was once the day-job. Obsessive, lost love’s the theme, as when she sings on “Innocence”: “For you I would gladly hang, but you gave me up for dead”. “Kenvig Hill” is a tribute to the South Wales beauty spot Howard Marks calls home.
Iceland’s Olof Arnalds (who’s worked with Bjork, of course), is more arresting. Whether singing in Icelandic or English, she picks her way through words with child-like fascination, making her cover of Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me” sound as if she’s just written it. Last year’s “Crazy Car” is equally heartfelt, a plea to a friend not to leave her and the past they have shared. Her off-beat, unaffected charm makes even Icelandic folk’s freakier corners hard to resist
The Secret Sisters are Alabaman siblings Laura and Lydia Rogers. They grew up harmonising to the Everly Brothers, and are so wholesomely out of time they could be the Andrews Sisters. Cornpone is the word that comes to mind, and the on-stage sisterly spats seemed a little too well-rehearsed. T-Bone Burnett’s produced them and Elvis Costello’s sung with them, doubtless seeing them as living embodiments of the country lineage he investigated on Almost Blue. This isn’t, though, the Old, Weird America but the Old, White-bread one, which isn’t to dismiss the genuineness of their sunny, God-fearing attitude, or their committed effectiveness on Patsy Cline’s “Leaving On Your Mind”, and especially the Gospel standard “In The Sweet By and By”. This is country’s non-alternative wing, the part most Americans actually like. The lack of irony or subtext, from sisters who are clearly no fools, is refreshing in its way.
Alela Diane, though, gives you something tougher to bite on. A Nevada City associate of Joanna Newsom, she’s on the last night of a long tour with her band, but they have enough left in the tank for a stately, powerful show. “Rising Greatness” is a particular highlight, and her band, with her father on lead guitar, is excellent. They finish Club Uncut’s latest Brighton adventure in satisfying style.