Delaney Davidson & Barry Saunders
Saturday, May 11
The new album by Delaney and Barry is one of those so-obvious-it-had-to-happen ideas that happened due to the two troubadours meeting half a decade ago when on the bill together for one of the Church Tours of the country.
No-brainer, right? Barry Saunders of The Warratahs, Sam Hunt considers him one of New Zealand’s finest and most important poets. A man that has been channeling road stories of regret and remorse and (sometimes) jubilation into songs for some 40 years.
Delaney Davidson, itinerant conjurer who has seemingly packed 40 years of music into 20.
So here on stage together as part of the tour to promote this brand new album they’re taking turns with the lead vocals, and Davidson will snap out one of his snarling, side-windery riffs around Saunders’ steady strum.
It’s blues and alt-country meets the pining of the good ole high lonesome sound – it’s Tom Waits meets Don Gibson.
The songs from the new album are terrific live, there are pop song instincts – which both writers bring to the table, there’s smokey, weird treatments to straight, faithful, gospel-infused country storytelling. And there’s some flat-out chant-along pub-rock too.
Mark Hughes (bass) and Chris O’Connor (drums) is a dream rhythm section (I find out after that it’s the first time they’ver worked together). Their collective experience has them supporting so many of New Zealand’s greatest writers and singers across several decades now. They really are the best. They play with the kind of casual look and feel that only comes after many years of serving under almost every kind of leader and style.
The greatest thing about this collaboration – and it’s very clear live too – is that Davidson knows how to tap into the darker side of Saunders’ work. There’s a baleful soul-cry beneath or deep inside so many of the lyrics and songs that Barry has made – but the risk, almost, is that he’s moved towards a countrypolitan safety-net that has been a fine default position but doesn’t allow people to get the full energy, nervousness and stampede of both his musical and lyrical lines. When so ably supported Barry is there to take more of a risk, his harmonica a crucial part of tonight’s sound rather than the wandering cameo it sometimes is, his voice an instrument of its own.
Delaney Davidson’s heavy lifting is subtle too – he’s there inside every inch of this music. Whether he’s the lead singer or solosist, or even when he’s chomping down on rhythm parts, maybe missing a blade of grass to hang from his lips.
Barry seemed to really relish the chance to dig deep into his solo catalogue and re-work a couple of his earlier classics with this snarling-good sound.
It felt like a sermon. Something just the right shade of almost-evil. So that we walked out feeling purified. Or close enough. A little extra grit in the soul, a little shit on the shoes, a song in our hearts from a dark country so beautifully rendered here.
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