The bijou Servant Jazz is at capacity for Barna Howard’s first experience of a UK audience. From its stage, Robert Chaney clearly feels at ease as he works into Black Eyed Susan, the opening number from his debut album, Cracked Picture Frames. Folk Radio’s Simon Holland calls it ‘sharp, intelligent, thoughtful and moving’ and Chaney is all this and more in a support slot where more than just his playing is electric. Chaney’s music is dark in origin, wordy and unconstrained by standard structures. Looking like a young Roger McGuinn and sounding like he’s just stepped off the boards in Greenwich Village circa ’66, the underlying tow of dense, reverb-drenched Blues and intense finger-picking shackles us to his performance and doesn’t let go until he’s finished.
The delicate Does Your Love Pay Out In Full unwinds like a spool of 8mm from the Basement Tapes but it would be unfair and unnecessary to load Chaney with the weight of his influences, mainly because although they are relevant, his songs and delivery are sufficiently removed from them to make comparison churlish. The set attains escape velocity on The Ballad of Edward and Lisa and The Cyclist, the latter an epic story where the characters search without success for validation of their actions and suffer the consequences in jail time. The audience were transfixed until the melody died. Corazones Amarillos is another highlight and benefits from a note-perfect duet vocal from Laura Tenschert, who co-wrote the final song, a new track called Broken (Beyond Repair). Servant Jazz takes a collective breath as he finishes his set and talk of the bar is of a classy performer whose time may be about to come.
Eureka, Missouri born Barna Howard is a self-effacing young American whose second album, Quite A Feelin’ was released on May 18. Howard’s light-touch old-time Country deals in finger-picked and strum combinations of stories that bounce along on jaunty melodies and a voice that sounds twenty years older than his face would have you believe. It’s a long-way-home-and-tumbleweed baritone that recalls Kristofferson and Van Zandt. Quite A Feelin’, right down to the album artwork, wouldn’t look, or sound, out of place in a box set from either of them.
Tonight, Servant Jazz gets Quite A Feelin’ in full, plus a couple of tracks from his eponymous debut, Promise I Won’t Laugh and Turns Around The Bottle. An understandable touch of nerves shows in his chatter between songs. It’s fair to say he’s grateful for the opportunity to play and, as many Americans do, he remarks on the attentive (read: quiet) audience during the songs. Such an approach from the crowd no doubt focuses the artists mind but Howard needn’t fear, as his playing and delivery is as loose-limbed and comfortable as if he were practising in his living room.
Indiana Rose is a sweet opener, images of sitting out on the porch and fields of corn as American as a good sour mash. Bitter Side Of Blue’s lyric echoes the rolling Country of Johnny Cash and Notches On A Frame is a wry look at the passing of time. The title track has a lovely melody and the combination with his voice is a beguiling one, a James Taylor confessional light on pain and introspection. The album credentials are further embellished by three songs towards the end of the set. Rooster Still Crows – ‘..the family who owned it moved on but it kept right on crowing’ is another one from the box of memories, an uncomplicated strummer that succeeds in transporting you to a different time and place for a few minutes. Pull Us Back Or Wind Us Up, as well as having a great title, is as close as Howard gets to bro-Country themes, albeit with more class in its opening bars than the entire bro-genre, all laid-back nights with a bottle and his friends, revelling in the beauty of simple needs and simple pleasures. Last track on the album and penultimate tune tonight is the beautiful Lend Me A Moment, a request to put the metaphorical brakes on. Which is a shame, as both songwriters could have played all night and it would not have been enough.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Robert Chaney’s Jagged Lines is Out Now
Order via: Bandcamp