Rob Lutes and Rob MacDonald and Little Birdie – Live and Unplugged

There’s some who love live albums and some who hate them. Blabber’n’Smoke are in the former camp believing that a well recorded honest to goodness document of a show can capture elements that don’t always show up in the studio. It’s even better when the recording strips away embellishments, see for instance the fine Unplugged shows from Neil Young and Nirvana. Anyway, the reason we were pondering on this was the arrival of two live albums that deserve a listen.

First off are the Canadian duo of Rob Lutes and Rob MacDonald. Lutes has several albums under his belt and has played with MacDonald over the past decade. While Lutes strums and sings, MacDonald adds some fine finger wizardry on resophonic guitar on a collection that showcases Lutes’ writing with a brace of covers thrown in. Basically a songwriter in the grand tradition Lutes delivers snatches of life lived with a fine degree of imagery and imagination, the lyrics intriguing and evocative. Several of the songs are top notch with I Know a Girl and Throw Me From This Train worthy of entering the canon. The former is a wistful look at unrealised dreams that recalls the deadpan Zen viewpoint of Howe Gelb while the latter is a mournful plea from a dying man. Pulling in influences from the blues, songwriters such as Townes Van Zandt and the late Chris Whitley the 14 songs on show here capture a duo (and occasional back up singers) at the top of their form. The recording is warm and imitate and even if you never get the chance to see them live the disc is well recommended as a worthy snapshot of a fine talent.

Throw me From The train

Our second live album is a completely different kettle of fish. Little Birdie is the name adopted by Canadian singer songwriter Orit Shimoni who with guitarist Andre Kirchhoff has produced two fine albums which at times recall the dulcet tones of Neko case delving into folk blues and gospel. Shimoni’s vocals have always been quite striking while her writing is informed and impressive.
Over the past year or so Shimoni has lived in Berlin, a city that has excited numerous artists due to its ever challenging musical scene and its position as a fulcrum in the tides of history over the past sixty years or so. In particular Shimoni by dint of her Judaism has had to deal with the personal ghosts raised by the events of the past and she addresses this on the song Old Synagogue.
Rather than a live presentation of songs from her albums Shimoni presents a set of songs written during her sojourn in Berlin. Backed by musicians she met while there this is a fairly raw fly on the wall (or as she describes it, “warts and all”) recording with applause, on stage whispers and MC announcement all included. Songs inspired by folk she met (Old Woman and Walls) are the most obvious results of her stay but the centrepiece is the song Old Synagogue where Shimoni tackles the dichotomy between Rabbinical teachings and the reality of history. She delivers this in a reverential tone with sympathetic backing from Nick Redell on violin and it’s the empathy between Shimoni and her pick up musicians that perhaps best reflects what she found in Berlin. Interestingly the opening song No Finer Place is reminiscent of Robyn Archer, a singer who explored pre war German cabaret and the likes of Brecht and Weill.
While Shimoni continues to sing powerfully and her writing is well up to par especially on the closing title song (which approaches Leonard Cohen territory) it will be interesting to see what her next release, also recorded in Berlin will be like. In the interim Sadder Music works well as a document of her progress.


No Finer Place


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