19 April 2018, Common Room, Hastings By Ian Thomas
The Frank Burkitt Band appears in complete harmony with each other, as they arrive in time to relax before the set-up and sound check. They walk into Common Room at ease with a familiar venue and pleased to feel the warm embrace, and the cold beer, of the host.
Taking to the road to celebrate their new album Raconteur, released in early March, the group have been active playing folk festivals and selected venues in Australia before their return home to complete the tour. The usual four piece line-up – double bass, flute, mandolin, six string guitar – has swelled to five for their nine NZ shows, with the addition of multi-instrumental Oscar Levan (sax, clarinet, and trumpet), a wonderful addition to the band’s sound.
Patrons take up comfy seats, stools, or just stand in front of the bar. Many of the assembled crowd have been to a FBB show before and there are high expectations. The show, due to start at 8.30pm, does – a clear indication of the precision and professionalism we are about to witness.
The show kicks off with ‘Work So Hard’, a bluesy work song with a chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place in harvest fields of the 1800s. It’s the first track on the album and a good indication of the high quality of the project. The three voices of Frank, Kara and Dusty are individually delicious and collectively even more delicious in their various pairings. Double bass, guitar and mandolin are the constant core. Flute, trumpet, clarinet, and saxophone feature throughout. The band’s musical arrangements are superb; the sound clear, precise, at times restrained, yet powerful. One of the highlights, ‘Albert Woodfox’, is the story of the Angola Three and their years of solitary confinement. The track has flute solo, sweet vocals, and the line “Who would you forgive if you could forgive somehow?”
‘American roots singer’ is the descriptor on the band’s website, which rings true, for there is no doubt that Frank’s song-writing is full of soul. And nor is there doubt that the new album, Raconteur, is named for the band’s eponymous creator. Frank’s banter and humour are delivered in a soft, gentle, Scottish voice; anecdotes punctuate the set. Stories of catastrophic haircuts, hangovers, spilt smoothies, repeated marriage proposals, toppling contra bassoons, and more tales from the road, keep the audience’s attention whilst instruments are re-tuned.
The second half is more upbeat. Time for the audience to get up and dance. Some do. Pokey LaFarge covers are a good fit. A version of Elbow’s ‘The Fix’ is superb, the trumpet solo gives the air of a Tarantino soundtrack.
We enjoy a well-crafted evening of mainly original music, performed by a line-up of great talent.
I bought the album. Love it!
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