Eastern Lounge goes from strength to strength. From its beginnings as an in-the-know event for North Shore music lovers in a tennis centre function room, to this packed-to-the-gunwales Roseville Club with its candlelit tables, cheek-to-cheek, groaning with oversized schnitzels and chocolate mudcake which baby boomers attack mercilessly as they wash it down with beer and merlot. On Friday, Valentine’s Day, the warm and engaging folk-country-blues singer-songwriter and guitarist Jenny Biddle stepped into this fray.
Her opening song, Down With Your Soul is typical of her sensitive personal and musical disposition. It has a laid-back tempo and was written on a handmade guitar in the Tuscan hills. It’s catchy, in the most understated possible way. There’s Jenny sitting on top of the world, but dragged down by a partner, lover, friend, or relative. In this reflective moment, she sees, clearly, the necessity to “go, go, go” or “go down with your soul”. It’s emblematic of the thoughtfulness and heart with which, really, all her tunes are imbued.
She warns us of impending harmonica. She needn’t. She uses it judiciously, as in Come & Go (from her Chest of Drawers album) telling of the difficulty of keeping relationships going in absentia. Biddle manipulates it sweetly, lapsing into an almost reggae lilt to accompany her slightly husky vocal.
Biddle is not long back from Tamworth where she picked up the people’s choice award. Chasing Stars features some of her most impressive country-blues pickin’ ‘n’ pluckin’, in a candid lyrical exposition of a tendency to wish too much.
Biddle is one of those performers who can make the most unlikely song her own, as with Beyonce’s Halo. But she saved her very best for last, in Freezing Time, a tender, yearning, heartrending song about going fishing with her dad, built on a powerful metaphor. If your heart’s feeling cold, this will thaw you write out.
The Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood Experience (pictured above) were on the St Valentine’s bill too. The band features Zoe Carides, baritone Scott Holmes and The Nancy Boys (John Encarnacao on electric guitar; Michael Roberts on keys; David Rowley drums and Mark Bradridge, bass). Carides and Holmes take on Nancy and Lee as characters, so this is a theatrical experience as much as a musical one.
They began with Sundown Sundown (as good a showpiece for the cowboy psychedelia aesthetic the two pioneered as any). The original recording was replete with big orchestration; this band somehow managed to emulate it’s epic feel. Holmes voice wasn’t quite up to scratch on the night: he wasn’t getting down to the growling, reverberant space he needed to be in to credibly pull off the Hazlewood persona. Carides, however, started strongly and, if anything, got better as the evening wore on; there were moments when she sounded quite spectacular. Better yet, she’s a good mimic and latches onto something of Nancy’s vocal persona: that appealing incongruity of girlish innocence and coy knowing.
Lee’s self-pitying soliloquy (“there’s no-one in this world for me”) to Lightnin’s Girl, and onto Things, a recapitulation of Bobby Darin’s catchy early 60s hit, which he penned and which was famously covered by Dean & Nancy. It was a nostalgic shopping-list of a setlist, if your shopping list runs to the slightly offbeat. All in all, it is an experience, in which you can immerse yourself and escape for an hour or two. It’s hard to pick favourites, but one would have to be Some Velvet Morning which, for mine, may not be quite as spaced and trippy as the original, but which displays outstanding virtuosity on the part of both instrumentalists and singers.
Eastern Lounge remains something of a secret gig: well-patronised by a loyal following of tuned-in punters, but still virtually unknown to many others. More’s the pity. For them.