Rachel Harrington and Zak Borden

Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson

The Barnsley Wheelhouse Concerts are as informal as it gets. The Jones family (Hedley, Lynn and Rory the King Charles Spaniel) are your hosts for the evening and at the bottom of their garden is a wooden cabin, which seats 35 comfortably. The guest artists have to be carefully considered for these occasions as the venue is purpose built for a solo performer. A duo would be more than comfortable, a trio manageable – if they don’t turn up with a grand piano or a double bass that is, and it must be said, an orchestra probably goes very much against HSE guidelines, even if the instruments only consist of ukuleles. Rachel Harrington and Zak Borden fall under the ‘comfortable’ category and played a superb couple of sets without the aid of either a safety net nor or PA. The Wheelhouse is one of those special venues that doesn’t require any form of amplification whatsoever and we were privileged to be given the opportunity to hear these musicians in their raw form. The venue was described variously throughout the inaugural evening as a log cabin, a garden shed and a summerhouse, to specifically ‘The Wheelhouse’ or ‘The Club House’. Zak Borden summed it up simply as ‘insanely cute’, which is just about right. The Seattle based duo performed songs from both The Bootlegger’s Daughter and the more recent follow up album City of Refuge as well as a couple from Zak’s solo album The Remedy Sessions. Kicking off with “Sunshine Girl” the couple soon found their natural volume and were both pleased to find they didn’t have to project their voices to any significant discomfort level. Rachel’s guitar and Zak’s tasteful mandolin accompaniment dovetailed together perfectly well, mirroring these freshly refurbished wooden surroundings. The duo are travelling ‘light’ around Europe for the next three months, with just one guitar and a mandolin, therefore Hedley’s wall-mounted Gibson came in handy for a few of Zak’s own songs including “Greener Side” and “Tennessee Heart” as well as his interpretation of the traditional “Saro Jane”. Rachel chose her songs wisely and included alongside her own compositions such as “Shoeless Joe”, “Walk To You” and the more recent “Under The Big Top”, Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Jo”, Bobbie Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”, as well as the haunting “Up The River”, which is a faithful reading of the Laura Veirs song and therefore just as spellbinding. There was even a Patsy Cline song in there for good measure. For this, the first of what promises to be a good season of house concerts, we saw two of Americana’s rising stars set a remarkably good standard for those to follow. In such surroundings, those who have yet to make an appearance at the Wheelhouse, can be assured that they are half way there already. Finishing off with “Goodbye”, a Steve Earle song, we were reminded once again that it was Steve’s sister Stacey who was the last guest to appear in this garden back in October, and proves that the standard of musicianship is being maintained here in Wombwell.