Friday, May 24, 2013

Brothers in harmony - review of State of the Union (Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams)

State of the Union at Arlington Arts, Newbury, on Saturday, May 2

MOST people (or maybe it’s just me) will have a long-term fondness for one or two musicians/bands who are so deeply ingrained in their psyche that they forget that they’re not as well known to the wider world as they ought to be. For me, one of those musicians is Boo Hewerdine. His work as frontman of Cambridge-formed band The Bible must have had some Radio One play in the late ’80s (for that was all I listened to back then), but they remained mainly a cult band, with their highest charting single having a near-miss with the Top 50.

Probably his best-known composition is Patience of Angels, a hit for singer Eddie Reader in 1994, although I prefer Hewerdine’s warm, mellow version of it, as performed during a two-song solo showcase during State of the Union’s gig at Arlington Arts. The other half of the State of the Union duo, Brooks Williams, got his own moment in the spotlight in the second half, so it was perfectly fair.

Williams is an American-born, Cambridgeshire-based blues/folk guitarist who first teamed up with Hewerdine in 2011, with the aim of recording an album using vintage mics and equipment in five days. In fact, they completed it within two days. Not surprisingly, working at that speed, they have now brought out a second album (speed of recording not confirmed), meaning that they have an impressive number of songs to chose from for their live set.

What the pair have come up with is a blend of English pop sensibilities and raw Americana. Both musically and lyrically, their songs probably nudge the coast of the USA more than that of the UK, but there are still British roots to be found, such as in their cover of the Pet Shop Boys’ most yearning song, Rent, with slide guitar replacing the original’s synth instrumental.

What was surprising is how well Hewerdine and Williams’ voices fit together, blending in a way that would be more usually found arising from sibling harmony rather than the vocals of two men born and raised thousands of miles apart.

One day, I will see Hewerdine perform his two most beautiful songs, Graceland and Honey Be Good, with his band The Bible. But State of the Union were a pleasure to savour, and opened up a whole new avenue of Hewerdine’s work to me; confirming that such a prolific singer-songwriter can never remain rooted solely in a long-ago past when he reached the heady heights of the Top 60.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on May 16, 2013

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