Corinne West and Doug Cox

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

Corinne West appeared in Wombwell tonight as part of the Barnsley House Concerts series, together with Canadian Dobro and slide guitarist Doug Cox, co-producer of Corinne’s current album The Promise. The flags were out for our visitors from across the pond, with stars, stripes and maple leafs fluttering above the Wheelhouse as everyone settled down for what promised to be another special night at the Jones’s. The intimate environment seemed to suit both musicians as they eased into a couple of impressive sets, where at times you could hear a pin drop and at others, nothing but loud and enthusiastic applause. In between all that, there was a beer flowing bar, a lovely pie and peas supper, Rory the dog wondering why so many people were in his kennel (again) and seventeen songs of outstanding quality to behold. At most any other venue, Corinne would normally utilise every bit of the stage with her impassioned and animated performance, but was understandably restrained at the Wheelhouse, where space is at a minimum. No matter, the singer gravitated to a small patch of stage and what was spared in her restricted movement was made up for in her soulful singing and playing. With her engaging eyes shadowed by the peak of her fisherman’s cap for most of the performance, Corinne chose a selection of songs from all three of her albums together with a few additional treats, all with a little help from her audience, whose requests poured in throughout the evening. Joined by Doug Cox on Dobro throughout, Corinne brought her own blend of country infused blues, Americana and what she describes as ‘Progressive Folk’, to yet another packed Wheelhouse audience. Once again, there was absolutely no need to enhance the sound electronically, as the small venue prompts just the one possible consideration, that of getting the acoustic balance right, which is left very much up to the players. If Doug’s only concern was that the Dobro might be drowning out Corinne’s voice, the audience responded with a resounding ‘no’, to which a single voice from the back added ‘in fact it’s a bit quiet actually’. We later discovered he was a Dobro player himself! The balance was perfect and Corinne’s guitar and Doug’s Dobro played off one another with seamless precision. Added to that, Corinne’s soulful and bluesy vocal delivery made the fact that there was no PA even more rewarding. Starting with “It’s Your Time”, originally from Corinne’s debut album Bound for the Living, both guitar and Dobro found a comfortable volume at which to rest as Corinne delivered a gorgeous vocal performance on one of her most engaging songs. The new album The Promise, which was recorded in the idyllic setting of Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia, was showcased tonight with a selected four songs from it; “Pollen”, “Lily Ann”, “Whisky Poet” and “Everybody’s Talkin’”, the former being three of Corinne’s most accomplished songs on the new album and the latter being the very same Fred Neil song as featured on the soundtrack to Midnight Cowboy, albeit warbled by the late Harry Nilsson. Doug swaps Dobro for guitar for the one and only time during the night, on Corinne’s smoothed out and slowed down version of the song, which captures its essence and transforms what is essentially a radio friendly pop tune to a beautiful and soulful ballad. Much of the set though was revisiting some of Corinne’s best known songs from both Bound for the Living “Amelia” and “Angel” and Second Sight “Roses to Rust”, “Cabin Door” and “Hand Full of Dust”, her two excellent previous albums. On “Deep Elem Blues”, Corinne gave a convincingly gritty performance, which combined the ballsiness of Memphis Minnie with the grace of Bessie Smith. With the blues, Doug Cox finds his comfort zone, with some suitably emotive notes that you’ll never find in Classical music however hard you search. Before the show I had a few words with both Corinne and Doug as they sat on the edge of the small stage, now incidentally decorated with colourful stud lighting, keeping very much with the tradition of having at least one thing new upon each visit to the Wheelhouse. Corinne spoke candidly about her early adventures, of leaving home at a very young age destined for a life on the road. Literally in her case; having hopped onto a converted yellow school bus with a bunch of free spirited artists and activists in the tradition of Kesey and Kerouac before her. “We had a full pot-bellied cast iron stove in there, with a pipe that went out the side and we cooked on it and had a fire going”. Corinne was quick to confess that they didn’t have the fire going whilst they were driving of course, but with a hammock in there, it all seemed the right thing to do and the right way to live. “I had a kick in my step” she added with a grin. Doug Cox is an outstanding and innovative Dobro player who has experimented with the instrument for a good deal of his professional career. Equally at home with standard bluegrass playing and fine accompaniment, such as with Corinne tonight, he is also interested in discovering hybrids of musical styles, working with Eastern musicians Salil Bhatt with Ramkumar Mishra for instance. Doug is keen to point out that anything is possible with an instrument that is essentially still in its infancy: “One of the most interesting things about the Dobro is that it’s not completely discovered; it’s really fine to take it outside of its traditional places”. Concluding with the driving Gandy Dancer, incorporating Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, and a final encore of “Writing on the Wall”, again from the Second Sight album, Corinne and Doug left their indelible mark on an especially pleased audience, all of whom showed their gratitude with a particularly healthy final applause as well as a definite promise to return. Let’s hope they are not the only folks there tonight to pledge a return visit soon.