Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
“I’m proud where I am from” beams angelic Welsh songstress Laura Evans, furthering “Even though I moved away so young.
Just 20 miles down the road from her Cynon Valley roots it’s so clearly evident that this talented lass will never let her keen sense of identity slip. So much so that, whilst out in Nashville, she penned “Take Me Back Home”, beautiful words and notes of tribute to her birthplace. Smiling so very broadly as “Aberdare” passes her lips, during the track, the hugely appreciative crowd cheer loudly; seemingly there’s a good few in from the former iron and coal town.
This evening’s venue, Acapela, is a new one to us but with acts as diverse as established outfits like The Christians and Fairport Convention through to emerging talents Morganway and Adwaith playing here it’s one to clearly keep an eye upon. Housed in a grade II listed former Horeb Presbyterian Chapel this is a venue that has, simultaneously, a spacious feel yet with an intimate vibrancy. Nearing its 200th anniversary inside there’s ample room with a three-sided gallery, complete with panelled pews, overlooking the ground floor. Which this evening is tastefully appointed with seating and tables.
Unfortunately, scheduled support John Adams, who opened at Laura’s Clwb Ifor Bach show back in February, has taken ill so keyboardist Eddy Smith takes up the reins at the last minute. Laura has an uncanny knack for selecting really decent support acts and Eddy doesn’t disappoint. Normally at the helm with his band the 507 alongside Eddy is running solo tonight. Just himself, his sumptuous keys and a husky, smoked voice.
Eddy’s vocals, for me, lie somewhere in an Americana countrified realm in which the likes of Springsteen, Cocker, and Petty dwell shoulder to shoulder. Quality shines through and the burgeoning reputation Eddy and the 507’s are building upon is there for all to see. Safe to say after this half hour introduction I want to see what the full band’s buzz is all about.
Eddy is double-dipping in musical terms, explaining his stage left position “[I] Got the privilege of playing keys for Laura tonight. With emotive bluesy notes emanating from his keys and a kind of Rod Stewart meets the Eagles in a roadside grill vibe ‘Shelter’ kicks off his set. One of three new tracks showcased Eddy is not phased by treading untested water.
‘Feel So Right’, a bit more up-tempo edging towards the blues-rock sphere, presents another new one; both being warmly received. Eddy’s happy, raising a pint, “By the way everyone, cheers!” he emotes. He slides effortlessly from the soulful blues of ‘Love Sick’ to the gravelly country rock of ‘Middle Of Nowhere’; both tracks recorded with the 507.
With a barbequed gospel underpinning peeking from out under the metaphorical rug ‘Try’ – the third of the shiny new numbers – captivates before we freewheel down the highway with closing track ‘The Good Times’. Wistful lyrics delivered powerfully atop trucking honkytonk keys I get the inkling a full band despatch wouldn’t go amiss in a Robert Jon & The Wreck set. Haste ye back good sir and be sure to bring the 507 with your good self; you have whetted our appetite for more.
Laura Evan’s band, including a familiar figure behind the keys, casually assemble ahead of their set before guitarist Joe Coombs gives the front of house team the signal. Jamie Dawson cymbals shimmer before Joe’s coruscating guitar joins the affray. A few moments more and bassist Daisy Pepper (last seen playing in emerging pop-punk starlet Tilly’s band) and the aforementioned Eddy on keys embrace the action. It’s a well-honed outfit, carefully selected for their combined dovetailing with Laura.
In a blur of long blonde hair Laura takes to the Acapela stage to rapturous applause; her band detonates unified as one into ascending opening track, 2020 single, ‘Running Back To You’. Crystal clear vocals atop a blues-drenched cascade set the tone for the evening. As Joe powers the outro riffs Laura raises her mic triumphantly above her head if there’s anyone happier in a twenty-mile radius of the venue I’d be highly surprised!
Releasing the highly successful debut album ‘State Of Mind’ last year has given Laura a heavyweight foundation upon which to further construct. Eight of the long-player’s eleven tracks are aired inside the spacious airs of the former chapel; sprinkled throughout the 90 minutes. The first of which the highway freewheeling ‘Good At Getting Over You’ follows a swift “Hello” from Laura.
The swampy foot-stomping of ‘Solo’ cranks up the American factor before the quintet head into ‘Arkansas’. This Chris Stapleton track is, as anyone who’s seen Laura before, a live staple. So much so that in February, this year, the band recorded a live version right here in Acapela’s studio featuring the mercurial six-string talents of local bluesman Chris Buck. So much fun it’s probably against the law as the song goes with its honkytonk barroom feel.
Not adverse to a cover Laura stuns, a track or two later, with a mesmerising ‘Mercedes Benz’ accompanied by just the head-nodding percussive output from Jamie. Joplin smiles upon. The Eagles classic ‘Heartache Tonight’, the penultimate number of the night, is served full justice, tailormade for this talented bunch it rightfully tears the walls down.
Slowing it down ‘Fool’ goes out to all of those herein who have been taken for a fool. Gentle but luxuriant its soulfulness enthrals. Fleetwood Mac-infused ‘Fire With Fire’ possesses a purity of soul not easily matched. High up on the hills, to the north, the guardian spirit of Welsh goddess Rhiannon watches on her kindred approvingly.
Following a busy year in ’22 supporting the likes of Cardinal Black, Matt Andersen and Robert Jon & The Wreck Laura has used her free time this year to pen material with her fiancée Rich Turner. “I know there’s singers in tonight” she challenges as ‘Running On Low’ is introduced. It’s a strong track that stands, happily, shoulder to shoulder with the back catalogue. With a dash of Jon Bon Jovi’s ‘Blaze Of Glory’ swiftly darting in and out it’s contagious hook is soon snared with the crowd singing strongly as Laura takes the track down for an outro of reciprocation.
Not content with introducing just one new track a further brace is slipped in towards the end of the main body with the forthcoming single ‘Heart Breaker’, an outright blues-tinged rocker, hitting an up-tempo swagger whilst ‘Back Into My Life’ features a sweet, sweet Clapton-esque solo from Joe’s fretboard that could melt icecaps with consummate ease.
The amiable country blues of ‘Let You Down Easy’, akin to a warm caress, dovetails with the sultry southern vibes of ‘Drag Me Back In’. Somebody pass me that ass-kicking moonshine for titular track ‘State Of Mind’ with its rootsy cadence and kerosene fuelled fire. With a nod to Primal Scream the band quite literally get their rocks off.
Rounding off a terrific night the prowling felinity of ‘I’m Alright’ snarls with Joe’s raw six string the contra-position to Eddy’s gloriously shining keys. It’s been a top-notch evening on the northern fringes of Wales’ capital city and even with the first autumnal chills abounding we are amply warmed inside.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM