Review – Carrie Elkin – 17th April 2011

My long weekend enjoying the music of Austin, TX based Carrie Elkin started by listening to the session recorded with Bob Harris, broadcast on his BBC Radio 2 Country show on Thursday, April 14th. Chatting animatedly about the recording of the new album CALL IT MY GARDEN Elkin confirmed that it had been recorded over a four-day period, at Sam Baker’s house in Austin, with the assistance of her ‘folk family’. The latter refers to a host of friends who were in Texas for the Kerrville Folk Festival and who lent their services during the recording process.

Harris drew out some wonderfully warm anecdotes from Elkin as he explored her willingness to remain open to whatever circumstances she found herself in and how a seemingly chance meeting can have a major impact. For example, the story about the Medicine Man in Santa Fe, New Mexico telling her to travel sixty miles further to Taos where she would be happier. She followed his advice and settling in Taos, made friends with Colin Brooks (now in The Band of Heathens) who has worked with her for a number of years and is co-producer of her last two albums.

Playing live, accompanied by Paul Cataldo, she chose Lift Up The Anchor and Jesse Likes Birds and then as is customary on the show, Harris asked her which track he should play from the CD to which her response was Edge of The World, the last track on the CD. Finishing the interview Harris gave out the remaining dates of her tour schedule and I found myself thinking ‘I hope that this session results in lots of people coming out to her shows’. She just enthuses warmth, talent, graciousness and you just want hard working independent musicians such as she is, to succeed.

Friday 15th driving to and from ‘my day job’ I slotted the CALL IT MY GARDEN CD into my car’s player and as is my habit, listened to the music that I knew I would be hearing live over the succeeding days. I did hear Elkin perform a few of the songs live during my Texan sojourn last year and have particularly affectionate memories of seeing her at a house concert she curated in Austin. Her own performance showcased a selection of the new material and a couple of the songs Lift Up The Anchor and Dear Sam moved her, others and me to tears. The lyrics are written from a very personal perspective and were made even more touching by the presence, that day, of the songs’ protagonists – Danny Schmidt and Sam Baker respectively.

Saturday 16th and celebrations for Record Store Day were taking place all over the country. The initiative, which started in the USA in 2007, celebrates independent record retailers. 2011 is the third year the UK has participated and the stores together with artists, celebrate with quizzes, signings, giveaways and live performances. Elkin appeared at the Union Music Store, Lewes, East Sussex as part of their festivities. Accompanied by Cataldo (dobro and guitar) she sang six songs including ‘one for the kids’ Jessie Likes Birds in her afternoon set and finished with a Dylan cover A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall with audience participation on the chorus. Clearly converting new fans, she sold not only CDs but also tickets for her evening show in Brighton.

The show in Brighton at The Basement, attracted a nicely sized audience including an American couple, from Dallas, who were on holiday in London. They have been Elkin supporters for a good number of years and she was clearly delighted by their surprise attendance. Opening the two-set show with Obadiah from 2007’s THE JEOPARDY OF CIRCUMSTANCE Elkin (again accompanied by Cataldo) captivated everyone with the beauty of her singing voice – when she sings she seemingly uses every sinew in her body to create such a pure sound and such is her range that she doesn’t need a microphone at all! Her petite build belies stunning and powerful vocals.

Alternating between songs from the last two albums she then led into the interval break with her partner Danny Schmidt’s song Company of Friends dedicating it to the American couple, much to their delight.

Returning after the break during which she made herself available to sign CDs she played a shorter set, six songs as curfew time 11pm placed a restriction on anything longer. Five songs from the new CD, four originals and a cover of Dar Williams’ Iowa completed the evening’s performance……….save for a quick return for one encore, just Elkin with voice on Amazing Grace. Preceding it she said that she wasn’t originally planning to sing it but it had been requested and it always reminds her of family of whom she thinks about a great deal as she tours. A heartfelt performance for sure, it left me looking forward to more the following evening.

Sunday 17th and a headline show at Twickenham Folk Club (Twickfolk). The beauty for artists about playing a club like this, which has been running for more than twenty-five years, is the regular following it attracts, a number of whom are musicians in their own right. From that you might correctly gauge that this is an audience who really appreciate good music. The venue is very much a ‘listening room’ and as Elkin and Cataldo took the stage, to warm applause, the audience sat back to enjoy an evening of charm, grace and beauty. A two set show featuring a couple of songs that hadn’t been played in the previous shows I’d attended – Roots and Wings and Berlin. The latter is one of her older songs, the only ‘old’ songs she performs live. Berlin initially appearing on her 2001 release LIVE AT THE FRONT ROOM, then on the studio album THE WALTZ in 2004 and was re-recorded for the new CD. It was the first song I ever heard her sing (in 2007) and from that point on I sought out her work and as you might surmise, became a huge fan.

Tonight, it was good to see Cataldo perform one of his own songs Drinking and Sleeping. He is a quiet presence and a good foil for the exuberant Elkin.

Finishing again with Amazing Grace, Elkin’s voice filled the room and I knew that it was the end of my long weekend in the company of a delightful musician whose work and work ethic, I have nothing but admiration for.

Jela Webb

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