Nestling in the heart of Coventry suburb Chapelfields, where fried fish shops are forbidden by covenant and a twelfth century leper hospital gave rise to the term ’sent to Coventry’, the Maudslay is a large timber-framed pub with an upstairs arched-ceiling concert room that was known as the Wooden Palace during the 1930s dance band heyday. There’s not much dancing nowadays but the rectangular room hosts intimate candle-lit music performances from its modest stage.
Lucy Anne Sale’s music is difficult to categorise and specific influences are elusive but it’s fairly safe to describe it as a fascinating hybrid of folk, early jazz, blues and soul, with added hints of rock sub-genres and classical interludes. Her recordings, on 2010’s hard-to-findKeeping It All At Home and current release Sonomama, are awash with captivating compositions of intriguing instrumental arrangements and beautiful layered vocal harmonies, mostly sung by Lucy herself.
‘Sonomama’ is a Japanese word, meaning ‘in a natural state’ – and that’s how the show began: multi-instrumentalist Lucy opted for a stripped-back accompaniment of only a nylon-stringed classical guitar for a solo rendition of the unreleased You Never Can Tell. Its lyric, ‘You never can tell what’s gonna happen’ is so apt a description of the unpredictability of her work that it was surely included for that purpose. Vocalists Liz Crowley and Lizzy Coughlan were called to the stage to add their close harmonies to the jaunty, calypso-like early spring trip to the bottom of the garden Sweet Cicely before applying the Sonomama treatment to Tears for Fears’ 1980s signature hit single, Shout. With Chordettes-like vocals and none of the now dated synthesisers that dominated the original, the song was fresh and reinvigorated, fitting seamlessly with Lucy’s own material.
The trio were soon augmented by drummer Gee Vaughan and virtuoso acoustic bassist Si Hayden for the memorably melodic Fooled by the Minor Key and the slow, bluesy I See You, before picking up the tempo with a spritely bass-driven Where Does All the Money Go?which had the audience clapping along to its hypnotic rhythm. A gorgeous version of Lal Waterson’s The Scarecrow followed, including a meandering improvised bass solo from Si. The song was also recalled recently by the Bright Phoebus Revisited touring project, although Lucy’s version was closer to the interpretation that June Tabor recorded with Martin Simpson for her album Abyssinians.
A rollicking piano-driven version of the rather brilliant Luckier than Some showed Sonomama at their finest and served as a perfect showcase for Lucy’s soaring, swooping vocals. The band was clearly enjoying themselves and the audience erupted loudly with appreciation. The set drew to an end with the relatively downbeat Big Yellow Balloon to enthusiastic cries for more, which were met with another as yet unreleased song, The Beatles.
Rather than being yet another singer/songwriter in an already crowded arena, Lucy Anne Sale is a gifted composer and arranger who writes distinctive songs that although often complex, burrow into the subconscious and are instantly memorable. Her distinctive singing and playing styles, combined with spine-tingling harmonies, funky bass and understated, precision percussion make Sonomama’s unique music sometimes challenging but ultimately deeply rewarding. It was later discovered that the band had performed without rehearsing since a gig eight weeks earlier. As the opening song stated, you never can tell; it was a special evening of music.
The well-known idiom reminds us that pride comes before a fall and the evening was marred by Lucy slipping down some stairs while carrying equipment. Fortunately, a subsequent A&E visit revealed no serious damage but the incident reminds us of how artists suffer for their creativity.
Review by: Roy Spencer
Sonomama is available here: https://lucyannesale.bandcamp.com/