- Andy Jenkyns
Upstairs at Leaf, the room falls silent. Pin-drop silent. Such a rare phenomenon, it actually takes us a little by surprise. An already appreciative audience in waiting, as MOLLY BURCH waits to take to the stage.
ANDY JENKINS, special guest for the night, opens with a set of Nebraska-era Bruce tasting songs, played on distressing sounding guitar, which he struggles to keep in time. There are elements of Dylan in the mix, and more than a flavour of Matthew E. White, who just happens to have produced Jenkins’ most recent record. In all honesty, there may well be some magic to be found on that record, but such sustenance is thin on the ground with Jenkins’ Leaf performance. It could be tiredness on his part, nearing the end of a 43-date tour, but we’re left with the distinct impression that Jenkins simply doesn’t want to be here. Maybe next time.
Molly Burch’s new album, First Flower, while still concerning itself with the demands of love and relationships, sees the LA native turning inwards to observe her place in it all, in a bid, we’d assume, to understand it all a little more. Love is joy and disappointment, thrill and confusion. Instant and eventual. These are the cornerstones, the signposts of Burch’s writing. She seems on this album, and certainly in the live format, at ease discussing these matters. She’s at once plaintive and unsure, while trying to remain calm and defiant.
On the stage at Leaf, surrounded by a highly skilled band bringing just the right amount of nuance and space to her delivery of these barroom torch songs, Burch’s voice leaps at times from laconic and understated to crystal clear falsetto with bewildering ease, almost as though it was controlled by someone else. Beginning with the album’s opening track, Candy, she’s challenging and confronting. In the lyric and in the attitude of the vocal. “Why do I care what you think? You’re not my father. Don’t even bother, don’t bother me”, she almost sneers. The band keep it simple, making it as much about the spaces between the notes as the notes themselves – giving Burch’s vocal plenty of room to move. It’s that sparseness in the music, the surf twang of the guitars, the fractured bossa nova rhythms, as light and bare as it gets, that hint of her adopted home of Austin, Texas. The whiskey and the dust of the landscape; the roadside juke joints; the Hispanic influence and cinematic 60s feel to these emotional missives; the country flavour of Margo Price and Patsy Cline, all adding depth and breadth.
More and more, listening to the lyrics, and listening to her weave her way through the easy, accessible, almost familiar melodies, it feels as though it’s herself she is challenging and confronting, as both a writer and performer. Some moments clearly pain her, but she puts across with an assured clarity. And cool. Very, very cool.
Next To Me is an interesting delight, perfectly cheery country pop music, one for the floor, almost celebratory, but with a claustrophobic lyric of confused and unrequited love. Light and shade; a perfectly misplaced mash of the two. The band, almost taking the darkness to the cabaret, allow Burch’s strength as a writer and singer to lead the way. She enjoys the challenge of mixing it up, clearly. As on Good Behaviour, a soft, lilting love song of disillusion, with the most delicious vocal performance of the night, as she wonders repeatedly, “Will I ever know good behaviour?”
Wrong For You, from Burch’s harder-edged debut Please Be Mine, brings the set to a close. All equable vocals and bass heavy rhythms, there’s definitely something to be said for using a pair of maracas as drumsticks. All the while, the audience is rapt and attentive. We remain amazed for the duration of this wonderful gig. Silent appreciation at a gig in Leaf. Who knew?