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Luke Roberts is one of those artists you discover by chance, fall in love with their music and rue not knowing about them before. Luckily it seems Mr. Roberts is a pretty nice guy so I hope he will forgive me this oversight. You, dear readers, have no excuse and are cordially invited to attend next Thursday’s gig at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar.
Signed to the superb Thrill Jockey label, Luke is promoting his sophomore album, The Iron Gates at Throop and Newport. The date is one of only a handful of UK appearances and I feel it will be one of those ‘were you there?’ moments.
At first listen his music is stripped down, Americana-folk. After further listens it become apparent that the music has a whole host of influences from country to gospel via alt-rock. Each song is delicately arranged with the music providing a subtle back-drop to Luke’s plain-spoken lyrics. His latest album is a beautiful collection of songs, that range from rockier alt-folk numbers such as His Song to country ballads like Will You Be Mine. Other delicate numbers are simply Luke’s voice and his gently picked guitar, which adds poignancy to the often emotive and heartbreaking lyrics. The album was recorded in Nashville and the ghosts of the city’s past surround the recording it all it’s raw beauty.
If my hunch is correct, the gig will be an intimate, stripped-down affair and one that will demonstrate Luke’s mature song-writing to a new audience. I’m already convinced, but I’m hoping he will have a legion of new fans come the end of the gig.
Perhaps the Thursday after the Bank Holiday weekend isn’t the most popular night for gig-goers, but it’s a crying shame that more people didn’t experience the majestic Luke Roberts, who brought the basement of Sticky Mike’s to a reverent silence with his beautiful and understated folk music. Those that did make the effort were treated to a wonderfully evocative set of blues-tinged country.
The majority of his album tracks are just vocals and a lone guitar, whereas tonight the songs were augmented by a live band – Brighton residents would have noticed the chap from, er, Resident on guitar. Incidentally, having bumped into Luke after the gig he revealed the band had only been playing together for the past two days.
Key to the music’s appeal is its simplicity. Each song begins with a stripped down guitar line that builds as each new instrument joins in. Often songs repeat the same refrain or are based on no more than three or four chords. It compliments Luke’s poignant Southern-drawl perfectly as he manages to convey deeply personal experiences without sounding indulgent or whiny – bourgeoning troubadours take note! Raw emotions permeate each piece – Dime Song seems like a pean to his hometown, Nashville, whilst You’ll Walk Away sees a hopeless narrative of lost love set to sombre guitar picking and biblical references. This may seem all a bit depressing, but the groove and tightness of the band and Luke’s humble yet captivating presence creates an uplifting atmosphere. Coo Coo Bird and Old Fashioned Woman were stand outs for me, both sounding fuller and more textured than on record.
Supporting Luke was the equally impressive Duke Garwood who makes music that defies definition. The combination of his murmured vocals and the sounds his guitar produces – which range from delicate finger-picking to prolonged feedback – creates a bluesy, dirgey sound that is really hypnotic and unique.
Both artists deserved a bigger crowd, I’m just glad I was one of the few who experienced this magical gig.