Della Mae

Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Listen to Northern Sky’s interview with Celia Woodsmith here:

Despite having been around for over ten years now, many in the audience tonight were probably new to the Della Mae live experience and most were definitely new to the all-female quartet’s latest album release Headlight, which was given its official release just a week ago. By the end of Della Mae’s set however, the audience and band were on first name terms. Fronting the band was Celia Woodsmith, a solid and dominant figure, with a voice to match, the Loretta Lynne of the Me Too movement perhaps? Then there’s the two founder members, the sardonic fiddle player Kimber Ludiker, whose dry sense of humour grounds any potential chancer vying to get the better of her, to the quietly beguiling and enigmatic Jenni Lyn Gardner, whose lightning fingers understand a mandolin fretboard better than an Inuit understands snow. Jenni Lyn has been traversing the neck of her instrument since the age of eight and therefore she’s had plenty of practice. Finally, there’s the newbie, Kentucky’s very own Vickie Vaughan, whose double bass and harmony vocal lights up the band like a beacon. This is Della Mae, a force to be reckoned with.

After an all too short opening set by Cheshire’s Jaywalkers, namely Jay Bradberry, Mike Giverin and Lucille Williams, which included a bunch of songs from the trio’s current album Time to Save the World, Della Mae opened their set with some fine country folk in the form of the lilting “Bluebird, Blackbird”, a good choice for a starter, in which each of the musicians took the opportunity to flex their respective chops and to find their feet. As a prelude to revealing one or two songs from the band’s brand new album Headlight, Della Mae trawled their back catalogue and delivered one or two solid performances of such old favourites as “Polk County”, “Down to You” and “The Most” from their debut album I Built This Heart. More recent material from last year’s collaborative EP The Butcher Shoppe was included, songs such as “Bourbon Hand” and Lester Flatt’s memorable “Sleep with One Eye Open”, both of which features very excellent Molly Tuttle on the recorded versions, together with Avril Smith and Alison Brown respectively. Such songs were delivered on cue by a band who was very much intent on making a Saturday night sound very much like a Saturday night.

There was an unexpected energy in The Backroom, which made the Nashville-based musicians feel at home, an energy augmented by an abundance of whoops and whistles from the audience throughout the set, which seemed to get louder and more determined as the night went on. It was a mutual exchange, whereupon the band brought to Sheffield the essence of some of the better off-Broadway venues, while the audience responded by bringing some of that sort of atmosphere to this fine Sheffield venue. Jenni Lyn’s mandolin flourishes garnered the most enthusiastic response, in fact the musician was approached at the end of the night by a new fan, eager to tell the musician how much she enjoyed the “diddly doodlin’ on her ‘thing’”.

If there was indeed one or two young people in attendance who have no clue as to what a mandolin is, then there were many who did know and those who actually owned one were probably eager to get home and take a hammer to it after witnessing some of Jenni Lyn’s staggeringly dexterous performances tonight. After being introduced as “not only the most joyful member of the band, but probably the most joyful person in the world”, Vickie Vaughan took the spotlight for a rousing reading of the old Creedence Clearwater Revival hit “Up Around the Bend”, to an enthusiastic reception from the audience, with John Fogerty’s ear worm guitar riff ingeniously transferred to Jenny Lyn’s mandolin.

After over twenty songs and tunes, including a couple from the new album such as the honky tonk foot-tapper “First Song Dancer” and the heartfelt “I Can’t Pretend”, Della Mae showed no signs of slowing down, their energy levels and consistently solid performances as good at the end as they were at the beginning, with an audience in no hurry to see the show reach its inevitable climax. After returning to the stage for a little Merle Travis and probably his best known song “Sixteen Tons” together with a fine instrumental workout “No See Un Stomp”, the band left Sheffield with a fine little rock ‘n’ roller for the road before leaving the stage with a promise to return some time soon. For me, it won’t come soon enough.