Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson
It has been just eight months since I first heard Stephanie Lambring’s debut album Lonely to Alone and in those subsequent months the disc has rarely been off the turntable (or whatever the equivalent to that is these days). The album has also been played numerous times over the Wheelhouse sound system during this period, so it has to be said, Stephanie’s appearance at the venue has been eagerly anticipated, not only by the organisers and the regulars, but also by those who wanted to come along tonight but were sadly unable to due to the gig selling out well in advance. When I first heard the record back in the summer of last year, I remember thinking how refreshing it was to hear such a young Nashville-based singer-songwriter (only 22 at the time), singing and writing songs about things that matter, tackling such subjects as racial and sexual prejudice to the demon alcohol and obesity, but at the same time throwing in the odd inoffensive love song. Tonight, the young Indiana-born singer, together with guitar player Brad Tursi, proved that there was no studio trickery on that recording and that Stephanie really is blessed with the ability to sing with such assured maturity rarely heard in one so young. Making their first appearance at The Wheelhouse, both Stephanie and Brad appeared relaxed and soon had a warm rapport with the audience. Starting with three songs from her debut album, including the opening song “If I Knew” followed in quick succession by “Forgotten Goodbye” and “If I Could”, a song that introduced us to Brad’s sensitive mandolin playing, Stephanie demonstrated the richness of her now familiar voice, which was at no point swamped by over instrumentation by either musician. The house PA was in use tonight, which went towards ensuring the balance was right. The Wheelhouse doesn’t really require a PA and for solo performances is rarely used, for duos though, it works really well. During most of the songs played tonight, either those written by Stephanie or Brad or on the couple of covers they performed, the two musicians complemented one another with some sensitive playing and close harmony vocals. On the Civil Wars’ “Poison and Wine”, the couple performed a duet in the old traditional way, sharing verses then uniting for the wonderfully tight chorus. The other ‘cover’ included in the set provided us with one of the highlights of the night. When I first heard Gillian Welch sing “Annabelle” on her debut album Revival in the mid-1990s, I thought song-based music could get no better, not least for the inclusion of David Rawlings’ delicious guitar accompaniment. Stephanie and Brad performed a pretty faithful version of the song tonight, with Brad paying homage to Rawlings’ spine-tingling guitar solo, whilst the close harmonies matched equally those of the original singers. That particular song is probably one of Welch’s darkest and many of Stephanie’s songs lean towards the sad end of the country spectrum. By way of explanation Stephanie insisted during the introduction to “Mutual” that she is “..a happy person as you can tell, if you’d just heard my album you’d probably think I was kinda troubled but I really do love life, I just like sad things – so now for the fifty-seventh break-up song of the evening…” It was a real bonus to have Brad Tursi along as well. Not only did he provide sensitive guitar and mandolin accompaniment to Stephanie’s songs, together with a laid back harmony backing vocal which really did bring out the best in Stephanie’s singing, he was also given a platform to perform a handful of his own songs, all of which were made available on a tour EP. Stephanie was happy to step back and let Brad take centre stage to perform all five songs from his current EP, “Lover On The Telephone”, “In For The Night”, “Two Hearts”, “Playing House” and “Blue River” as well as his soulful “Out Love Me”. Locally-based musician Katriona Gilmore was on hand to play some tasteful fiddle on Brad’s “Playing House” after the shortest of rehearsals up at the house, having had only enough time to run through half of the song before the show. Written in a song writing class at Belmont College, Vincent is based on one of Stephanie’s real life friends, albeit with a courteous name change. The song reminds us all once again of the harsh reality that sexual bigotry is still very much present in the world around us. Likewise the final song of the evening, which is also the title song from the album, Lonely to Alone looks at the even more ludicrous forms of narrow-mindedness that we all encounter in our daily lives. In four verses, as many different forms of bigotry are addressed, from bullying to racial prejudice and finally child abuse. The song resonates after we first hear it and I dare say it will have probably stayed with most of those who heard it tonight long afterwards. Going against the grain in traditional Nashville song writing terms, some of Stephanie’s songs at times touch a raw nerve to which the songwriter argues “you’ve got to be bold sometimes; I get tired of songs that all say the same thing. I think as a songwriter your job is to communicate what everyone knows what’s going on but no one really talks about”. Whilst at Belmont, Stephanie has been in the ‘Best of the Best Showcase’ for three consecutive years, proving that at home, her credentials as a first rate singer-songwriter have being noticed early. Hedley Jones quite rightly described tonight’s concert as ‘magical’ before asking the duo to return to the stage for a final encore of “Nothing”, one of the songs from Stephanie’s new untitled EP. Just three days into their current UK tour and a couple of concerts under their belt, we can be assured that the name Stephanie Lambring will be heard much more in the future.