Gig review – Waxahatchee, Ali Burton and Jen Buxton, Newtown Social Club, 3 July

Gamely battling a scratchy throat, Newcastle singer-songwriter Jen Buxton offers a raw, autobiographical brand of punk folk in the vein of The Smith Street Band or a more subdued Frank Turner. She’s got a sourly funny, self-deprecating stage presence and spirited songs like ‘Anhedonia’ and ‘Don’t Change Your Plans’ as well as a cover of Cory Branan’s ‘Crush’. Disarming stuff.

Ali Barter’s music comes from a more ethereal place and though her set is unfortunately interrupted by persistent technical problems, she does get an unusually attentive crowd for a support act, with the likes of the gentle, floating ‘Run You Down’ and the more brooding ‘Community’ proving highlights of a promising but stop-start set.

“You guys are weird” Katie Crutchfield a.k.a Waxahatchee tells the crowd. “You came to this sad ass show on a Friday night”. Playing in solo mode in her first ever Australian show, Katie Crutchfield is soon into stride with the purposefully fuzzy ‘Grass Stain’, a song which sees her vowing to “drink ‘til I’m happy”.

There are more arresting, confessional lyrics where that came from, like on the gem ‘American Weekend’ where a barbed guitar line underscores strange and memorable images of heartbreak: “you are shoved awkwardly into my head”.

The crowd hang on every word of ‘Tangled Envisioning’ and the 90s rock of ‘Under the Rock’. It’s a still, subdued batch of songs but as on the irresistible ‘La Loose’ where crowd members add their own backing vocals, there’s also a real pop sensibility.

As well as cherry picking the highlights of this year’s excellent Ivy Tripp, there’s also a lot of material from American Weekend, including ‘Bathtub’ and ‘Noccalula’ and the beautifully fragile ‘I Think I Love You’.

Far from being a sad ass affair, there’s something arresting about seeing such personal and introspective music and you’re left reflecting that there’s no better way to spend a Friday night.

Gig review – Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Star City, 27 June

A former jillaroo who ditched her cowboy hat when she made the switch to being a full-time musician, Harmony James has retained a real earthiness in her music and a knack for heartfelt, straightforward storytelling. On older songs like ’30,000’ she does a nice line in travelling songs while ‘Skinny Flat White’ is a well observed slice of life. Obviously stoked to be part of this tour, she proved a good choice for support act, not least because her setlist includes a song touching on the influence of tonight’s headliner, ‘Emmylou’s Guitar’.

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell may be icons in their field, but there’s a likably low-key tone to tonight’s set, with both chatty and relaxed throughout. Their creative partnership has been a productive period in terms of songwriting, but they both remain first rate song interpreters and begins with Gram Parsons’ ‘The Return of the Grievous Angel’ which sets the tone for the night; classic country delivered with attention to detail and an obvious reverence for the source material.

Further covers include the Townes Van Zandt classic ‘Pancho and Lefty’ and Lucinda Williams’ aching ‘I Just Wanted to See You So Bad’, where the interplay between Crowell’s earthy croon and Harris’ ethereal lilt make it arguably better than the original. Perhaps the real jewel though is ‘Love Hurts’, originally a hit for the Everly Brothers. In Harris and Crowell’s capable hands, it’s an affecting slice of yearning with heavenly harmonies underscoring its message of consolation.

‘Bring it on Home to Memphis’ and the autobiographical ‘Red Dirt Girl’ continued the mellow mood, while ‘Back When We Were Beautiful’, a skeletal lullaby in recorded form, was more fleshed out with upright bass, lap steel and tasteful guitar from Australian Jedd Hughes adding to the harmonies without threatening to overwhelm them.

The crowd was appreciative throughout and coaxed the band back on stage for a hushed version of Crowell’s evergreen ‘Stars on the Water’ before bringing Harmony James back onstage for the closing ‘Boulder to Birmingham’. Despite the huge room, it felt intimate and relaxed, a chance to see two of country’s most fabled names in laidback mode.