Blink and you’ll miss it. Well, not quite but Glasgow’s annual celebration of all things country and, well, Americana, is indeed small but as so often happens it’s also perfectly formed – five days of world class entertainment on your backdoor, what’s not to like about that. For Blabber’n’Smoke it was even smaller as diary engagements (including a commitment to review Pokey LaFarge who was in town as well) meant that we missed what one might call “the big guns,” Bruce Cockburn and Tom Russell (you can read The Herald reviews of these acts here). So it was down to four shows (and ten acts!) on the Saturday and Sunday, a concentrated dose of new and returning talent that at times was stunning and at the very least terrific entertainment.
Saturday’s action took place at The Glad Cafe on the South Side, an excellent venue for intimate shows allowing the audience an up close and personal contact with the performers, all of whom seemed to enjoy the intimacy.
Betty Soo and Danny Schmidt (with Carrie Elkin). Saturday Matinee
A second generation Korean American, Betty Soo is a Texan so she comes already armed with that State’s innate gift of storytelling in song. A selection of songs from her new album, When We’re Gone, displayed her talent well; Last Night, a swooning lament of a betrayed lover was sung with a desolate sense of loneliness with Curtis McMurtry (up for this one song) adding some understated banjo notes while When We’re Gone was another tender song detailing the mementos we leave behind. Wheels showed that Ms. Soo can be defiant with this more upbeat song although again the lyrics, while celebrating life seemed to accept that we all hurtle towards the inevitable end.
Armed with only her guitar and beguiling voice Soo had the audience rapt with older songs (a tremendous Whisper My Name) and a new song that captured again the aftermath of a break up as she catalogued a list of daily activities, once routine but now perpetual reminders of loneliness (no one there to tell you to shut the cupboard door). As we said Ms. Soo is from Texas and she paid homage to one of the great Texans with a rendition of Butch Hancock’s Boxcars, slowing it down and infusing it with a fine sense of loss and regret.
It was a welcome surprise to see Danny Schmidt arrive on stage accompanied by his wife, Carrie Elkin as she hadn’t been billed to appear. A fine vocal foil for Schmidt’s husky voice, adding harmonies to the songs Ms. Elkin also had the opportunity to display her recently established command of the mouth organ which led to one of the better quips of the days as Danny added “I could have asked Neil Young to marry me” after one of her “moothie” solos. An affable host Schmidt spent a good deal of time talking; about his songs, explaining their genesis with a sly wit or engaging in repartee with Elkin, obviously relishing his relationship with her and singing the song he wrote by way of proposing marriage (and you can see that song at the bottom of this article).
Aside from the obvious happiness of the couple Schmidt got down to business with a solid performance, his excellent guitar technique, bending strings and achieving some fine vibrato and tremolo effects, adding colour and dynamics to the songs. He opened with Paper Cranes from his current release, Owls and several songs from the album featured with Schmidt delivering his thoughts on ecology, god and gun control (on Soon The Earth Will Swallow, Looks Like God and Guns and The Crazy Ones) but his best was on the spooky and dusty ballad Bad Year For Cane while his solo rendition of an older song, Stained Glass was a masterclass in storytelling, the words pouring out like a torrent towards the end. Rounding up the show, the pair returned to the Texan theme with their rendition of Guy Clark’s Stuff That Works, a fine and comfortable way to finish off with.