The south side’s Glad Cafe was as packed as I’ve ever seen it for this show celebrating the release of local musician John Alexander’s second album, Of These Lands. Introducing his set in front of a drum kit Alexander promised the audience a bit of a Neil young experience, some solo acoustic songs before the band kicked in. A mite grandiose one might have thought but by and large Alexander followed through particularly when he buckled on his Gibson Les Paul midway through the set.
The album’s an intriguing mix of country blues and folk tinged rock which allows his fine guitar skills and deeply grained voice a chance to shine and both of these were on show tonight as he delivered all of the songs from the album along with a few older numbers.
The first three songs were solo efforts. Perched on a stool that he worried was “a bit too wobbly” he opened with the delightful Used To Be A Friend Of Mine, a song that harks back to the sixties folk revival with echoes of John Martyn and Bert Jansch before Don’t Fail Me, a harrowing eulogy to fallen soldiers, cast a dark shadow upon the hushed audience. Alexander followed this with the sly blues picking of This Side Or The Other which, in a similar fashion to the opening number was a reminder of the freewheeling take on the blues that was popular back in the sixties. Delivered with a whiff of Bleeker Street and The Gaslight Cafe it’s the sort of song that Dave Van Ronk did so well and it allowed Alexander the opportunity to lay down some fine blues picking on his guitar.
Drummer Jim McDermott appeared for the next song, one of the highlights of the album, Hallowed Ground. Although McDermott plays on several songs on the album Hallowed Ground isn’t one of them but tonight he fashioned a primal percussive shuffle over which Alexander laid down his skeletal blues, his voice stained with Delta dirt before they launched into the gruff All My Angels Have Fallen with McDermott pushing Alexander’s gruff delivery to new heights. The pair were then joined by bassist Nico Bruce for a bone rattling Take The Blame.
Strapping on his Les Paul Alexander was as good as his word earlier on when he mentioned Neil Young as the band launched into a grungy raw boned rendition of Skin (from his previous album) that saw Alexander shredding notes from his guitar over the solid rhythm section. There was a fine and chunky Meet Me Where The River Flows and a magnificent rendition of A Little Daylight which was muscled up from the album version with a seventies rock feel, halfway between The Stones and Humble Pie, the only thing missing from the into was some cowbell. They ended the set with a cover version from a man who, as Alexander said, “went to school around the corner” and sure enough they pumped up an excellent rendition of John Martyn’s Don’t Want To Know which sparkled with a true love of the man’s music as all three conjured up as fine a rendition as I can recall. Alexander’s voice eerily reminiscent of Martyn while Bruce’s bass was supple and evocative and McDermott shone on his cymbal work.
No encores, declared Alexander but the crowd demanded one more so as McDermott and Bruce departed we were treated to a gutsy rendition of Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright which allowed a closing glimpse of the man’s fine voice and guitar work. All in all this was an excellent show.
We must mention the opening act, Roseanne Reid. Ms. Reid is a graduate of sorts from the Steve Earle school of song writing and we’ve seen her in support slots several times over the past few months. Hailing from Edinburgh she disguises herself as an Appalachian waif as her songs recall the likes of Earle himself along with Mary Gauthier while she acknowledges writers such as Merle Haggard as an influence. Over the months she is building in confidence and she announced tonight that she is writing several new songs to supplant those from her EP she has been reliant on for so long. However with songs such as Sweet Annie, Amy and I Love Her So she’s already shown that she is somewhat special and an artist to watch out for.