In his grey suit and hat, Al Shields may be a little lighter in tone than The Man In Black – but with his appealing set of old country, blues and American folk, he walks a similar line to Mr Cash.
Tonight’s gig at The Voodoo Rooms is to celebrate the launch of Al’s debut long player ‘Slow Burner’, a collection of self-penned songs steeped in the 20th century Americana which he obviously loves so much. With titles like Travelling Man and Had A Little Lovin’, you get the sense Al would be more at home in some dustbowl diner in the mid-west rather than a grand ballroom in the east end of Edinburgh.Tonight however, he’s gathered his local musical friends for an enjoyable and accomplished celebration of his LP release; and shows that you don’t have to be born in the USA to capture its musical spirit.
Support comes from Edinburgh singer songrwriter Kat Healy, whose short but sweet set of country-hued acoustic songs set the mood perfectly. Joined by guitarist Rory Butler, Kat has a stage presence which mixes vulnerability with good humour and has a voice and songs which drip with fragile emotion. The harmonies with Butler are something special; but Kat has an undeniably strong impact solo too, when her lone presence on stage emphasises her ability to take an audience on a heartfelt journey through her music.Al Shields has assembled something of an Edinburgh alt-country / folk supergroup to accompany him onstage tonight. With Matt Norris on banjo and his And The Moon bandmate Tom MacColl on upright bass; Gavin Taylor of the Whisky River Boat Band on steel lap guitar; and Andy Duncan from Black Diamond Express on drums: it comes as no surprise when the sound they create is distinctive and hugely appealing.
What comes as more of a surprise is the fact this band doesn’t really exist – it’s been created specifically for this launch gig. So – although Duncan and Shields are long-time collaborators – the level of tightness on display from Norris and the others is impressive, coming across as if this band have been travellin’ the railroads together for a long time.
Shields acknowledges his good fortune at having such talented friends; but the night is his, and his set of songs about bad work, bad luck and bad lovin’ shows his ability not only to evoke the spirit of the lone bluesman, but also to pen some mighty fine tunes into the bargain.
As the band depart, leaving Edinburgh’s Man In Grey alone on stage playing a couple of his songs solo, Al Shields has launched his album in style – and turned the Ballroom of the Voodoo Rooms into a little long-lost state of America.