Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart

Live Review | House Concert, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Hedley Jones introduced his special guests tonight with a story of some random email exchanges between himself and agent Bob Paterson, whereupon they found a free night between two gigs on the couple’s current tour.  If Stacey Earle and husband/musical partner Mark Stuart were in Edinburgh one night and Leeds a couple of nights later, then surely Mr and Mrs Jones’ hospitality would be much more appealing than a night watching Strictly Come Dancing in some Edinburgh hotel room.  Stacey pointed out that before leaving the States at this crucial moment of political excitement, the couple had filled out their absentee ballot papers before they left and secretly deposited them in tightly sealed envelopes in order not to give away who they’d be voting for.  So, with the name Obama emblazoned across her chest, a pair of denim jeans and a pair of Converse sneakers, without laces I might add, Steve Earle’s kid sister and guitarist/brother-in-law, brought to Wombwell an absolute gift of a night in Hedley’s garden.  Raised in San Antonio, Texas, Stacey followed in her brothers’ footsteps, actually picking up one of his abandoned guitars and leaving home to try her hand at what has proved to be good for Steve.  After the birth of her first child and a failed marriage, which had temporarily postponed her dreams of making music and hitting the road, she picked up the guitar once again, met Mark Stuart at Jack’s Guitar Bar in Nashville and the rest as they say is history.  Mark says the best thing you can do if you are a budding songwriter suffering from writer’s block, is to steal other peoples’ songs. Stacey and Mark both admit to stealing from one another down in Jack’s Bar and some of the resulting songs were performed exquisitely well tonight.  Opening with “Are You Ready” with its Western Swing lilt and brilliant guitar fills courtesy of Mark’s vintage Gibson, Stacey brought a flavour of Nashville to this little street in Wombwell, and rather than the prospect of complaints from the neighbours, you imagine them all out on their back porches, gently rocking in their chairs, with a glass of wine as the duo serenade them with the beautiful “I Don’t Wanna Have to Run”.   Stacey and Mark complement each other remarkably well, both in their harmonies and their guitar playing technique.  Mark’s voice reminds me so much of Happy Traum, one of the true unsung heroes of American folk music, and that voice rings out true and clear in songs such as “Ragged Suitcase” and “Lorraine”.  The duo can flit from contemporary sounding modern song writing efforts such as “Makes Me Happy”, “Looking for Fool’s Gold” and the Bobbie Gentry inspired “Wedding Night” whilst at the same time turning on an authentic 1950s feel to songs such as “Spread Your Wings”, where you could easily imagine these songs being juke box hits in another era.  Mark claims there are two kinds of songs in the world, the Blues and Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.  Stacey’s “It Must Be Love” falls under the latter category and the couple had fun singing it tonight, with the audience fighting off the urge to sway along and it must be said, failing miserably.  How could you not tap your foot to this stuff?  During the set each of the musicians took a ‘union break’ allowing each other to spread their wings in a couple of solo sets. Mark sang songs from his new album Left of Nashville, starting with “Gladden”, followed by the title track from the album and concluding with one of Paul McCartney’s rare country songs “Sally G”.  Stacey Earle is a fine singer who knows exactly how to put over a story.  During the performance she told a story of mothers’ intuition, which was certainly the most compelling portion of the show tonight.  In a monologue telling of what it feels like to lose a child, even though in this case it resulted from a piece of misinformation, for fifty minutes there was the belief that our singer lost a child to an accident.  Such storytelling puts Stacey right up there in a lineage of great Texan storytellers such as Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.  Mark and Stacey played tribute to the quiet Beatle in a heartfelt rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with an outstanding coda of “Within You Without You”, once again showcasing a remarkable guitar player at work.  Once you hear these two musicians together you tend to find it difficult to imagine them without each other.  Like how would it be if Gillian Welch didn’t have Dave Rawlings?  Same thing here.  Before Stacey and Mark took to the stage, their current tour guide, roadie, companion and friend, the American singer-songwriter Kathleen Haskard sang a few songs to kick off the evening.  With a voice not only reminiscent of k.d. lang, but judging by tonight’s performance, just as good, Kathleen sang three songs from her latest album, the Chuck Prophet produced Don’t Tell.  Dividing her time between her native California and adopted home of London, Kathleen seems to have been taken under the wing of the UK country scene and is currently receiving good reviews across the country.  Kathleen started with “Play Me”, followed by the title track from the album Don’t Tell and finally “Leave to Remain”, a song inspired by the ‘permanent residency’ note on her passport, which actually reads ‘indefinite leave to remain’, which in turn means she’s welcome here, for now anyway.  I’m sure she would be welcome to a permanent residency in Hedley’s back garden with a voice like that.  Rounding off the night with a rousing version of Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”, Stacey and Mark brought another stunning and most memorable night in South Yorkshire to a close.