It’s Nashville night again in Auckland last Friday night, and even if it’s not a venue as acoustic friendly as the Tuning Fork, it is what it is, as the artists full know, sometimes you have to grind it out. Hard yards night at Anthology.
But Sam Bartells and his effervescent band rise above the cauldron of chatter and deliver a first class set of contemporary Americana to a, by now, warmed up and attentive audience.
Another night of revelation at the breadth and depth of emerging talent in this eclectic genre which embraces all things American with a dose of Kiwi on top. Another layer of excellence backing up our already extensive rolodex of names who are by now iconic, such as Tami, and Marlon, and Delaney, and Reb, and Nadia, and Hollie, and Holly, and on and on, and add Sam, Hannah and Grace to our wealth.
Sam Bartells got a break when he was picked up by Paul Reid, ex Rubicon and now successful Auckland property investor. It appears Paul is “giving back” by investing in aspiring artists and backing them, adding a fair old dose of rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle along the way. That didn’t work exactly, but along the way Sam came to the attention of Peter Strickland from Warner Music in Nashville and has ended up with a new EP release consequent to a trip to AmericanaFest last year.
Produced by Dr Ford in the SoundKitchen studios, no less. You make your own luck, and Sam, who is in his mid-thirties with a young family, has drawn on his various commercial experiences to navigate the idiosyncrasies (read dangers) of the American music industry jungle. He’s also on a mission, because alcohol got in the way, and nearly derailed him completely, and going to Nashville put the resolve to stay sober to a real test. Needless to say, he passed, and life now finds him, no less intense, but purposeful and driven, to get the music inside him out and shared with the world.
He aims to be prolific on record, not just in his head, now that the wall he repeatedly hit it with has been dismantled. There’s a great song on his record, “Blessed and Broken” which tells the story of a dream where Sam’s daughter walks down the aisle without him. Reminds me of the tragedy of Justin Townes Earle, for whom that dream has just come true. Not so for Sam. He’s going to make it.
Grace Kelly has also recorded in Nashville, and released her EP earlier this year. I covered her launch party in July at the Portland Public House in Kingsland, and here she is, alone and acoustic, working hard to be heard at the back of Anthology’s cavernous hole underground, more Whammy than Wine Cellar. But if you go up front she can certainly be heard , sharing the songs from her EP in stripped back solo form. “San Jose”, her breakthrough song adopted by the city of San Jose as part of their promotional effort, “How It Feels”, to be facing the noise and chatter and clutter and getting the song through, “That Girl”, with passion and determination and she’ll make it.
Alright, try a sing along and cover “Royals”, get the audience moving, I’m not just a country singer. And a new one, “You’d See I’m Lying” if you think this is unconditional fun. Not it’s hard work, but I love it, resilient, irrepressible Grace, and then the song all the kids learn at ukelele class, Brooke Fraser’s “Something In the Water”. There needs to be. Well done Grace. Do the hard yards.
Check out our Grace Kelly review here
Velvet Arrow are Hannah Jane Young (who went to school with Sam) and Dan Stenhouse from Whangarei and have also recorded an EP, Songs of Solitude which is out on Bandcamp. Not recorded in Nashville, but could have been, such is the power of this acoustic duo who sing a little on the dark side of folk, but fit equally well into the Americana church.
Same issue tonight with the sound battling the enthusiasm of an unlockeddown crowd, so you need to get up close to get the vibes, from Cohen to Cave to Civil Wars, with usually a cover from each of them but no Cave tonight, time is too short, but "Red Revenge" could be Cave doing Peaky Blinders even though it’s their song. I’m looking out for these guys again in a more conducive setting. Magic.
Velvet Arrow Setlist:
- Broken Machine
- Chelsea Motel
- Dust to Dust
- Red Revenge
- Broken Symphony
- Troubled Mind
- Leave Me Now
- Song of Hope & Fear
And on comes the band. This is what Anthology needs, which a big acoustic/electric sound which would be right at home at the City Winery and half a dozen other venues in Nashville.
Sam is a little guy with a big band and a big sound, as you can hear on his EP. Let’s Go, and all five songs are mingled in to an 11 song setlist which oozes promise of more to come, and a bigger, album size offering.
The band are transformed from rock to country by a big double bass but even more so by a fiddle, soaring over the rhythm section putting an Amanda Shires topping to Sam’s Jason Isbell cake. Jason Slade on drums, Hannah Elise on bass, Mitch French on keys and lead guitar, and Shimna Higgins on fiddle are more than up to the acoustic challenge and we get a clear full sound which penetrates to the comfy couches at the rear.
This band gets everyone’s attention and we have a proper gig at last with the artists getting the respect they deserve. These kids all have gigs of their own, but Sam’s got them all together and provides the song recipe to bring out their talents and we can just hope this becomes a fixture. The sum of their parts give us a rollicking good experience and I know that Sam Bartells is well on his way, he’s the real deal, blessed and unbroken at last.
Sam Bartells Setlist
- Our Love May Go Away
- Don’t Feel Like Home
- White Wolf
- Let’s Go
- Blessed & Broken
- Alone No More
- Morning Light
- Still Like To Know
Radio 13 thanks and credits Ginny C Photography for all images in this review.