REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s verdict on Sarabeth Tucek (SBT), Selby Town Hall, May 20

Sarabeth Tucek (SBT) and her band: Performing on the road after only one rehearsal 

SELBY Town Hall is marking itself out as a great place to watch live music. Pushing the envelope last Saturday was Sarabeth Tucek; a critics’ favourite from New Jersey who unveiled her new double album, gestating for nearly a decade.

Tucek wasn’t big on small talk, letting her music do the revealing. As the lyrics pulled out from the CD inlay put it: “I put my life in the centre of the room. I dim the lights on parts of the truth.”

This more adventurous note was struck from the off with Kiran Leonard and dbh (actual name Nick Jonah Davis) sharing opening duties. The pair were very different beasts, the rich air of English pastoral swirling around dbh’s acoustic guitar instrumentals. Of the possible reference points, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn were perhaps the most obvious.

It’s always a good sign when the main act comes out and watches, and you could see Tucek’’s band really appreciating both supports. In other hands, Kiran Leonard’s set could also have oozed bucolic ease, but his contributions were much more challenging.

This was the sound of a man trying to appeal to all our senses simultaneously, seemingly striving for something always just out of reach. Leonard displayed a formidable musical intelligence and ambition – as well as an admirable lack of self-consciousness in giving himself up to the songs.

“Tucek was the still centre, weaving her stories in her distinctive conversational, emotionally direct way, while her band provided energetic support,” says reviewer Paul Rhodes

Ten songs into her 15-song set, Tucek sang “Am I happy?” (from Happiness). Her stage armour made it difficult to tell. Like Kristin Hersh whose music she shares some similarities with, Tucek’s has a serious, almost intimidating stage presence.

It’s been an intense experience for her band too. The three musicians had just one rehearsal together before their opening show in Manchester two days before. Selby was third in line. They did an amazing job recreating the twists of Joan And All, newly released under Tucek’s new SBT moniker, especially when casting minor key magic on Unmade/The Dog.

Tucek was the still centre, weaving her stories in her distinctive conversational, emotionally direct way, while her band provided energetic support, the guitarist Luther Russell, who also produced the album, leading from the front.

Joan Of All is a double album that listeners need to live with for a while (particularly more challenging sides 3 and 4, some of which could have been cut for this concert), but it is already being heralded as a masterpiece by those qualified to know.

Discovering its depths live was arguably the best introduction. You could hear some of Lou Reed in songs like the memorable 13th Street #1 and in titles like Cathy Says (the emotional highlight of both the record and the show). The spirit of the Velvet Underground also infused the instrumentation.

Tucek and band more than fulfilled their promise to go all out, and it felt like we’d been on an emotional journey together. We parted friends.

Review by Paul Rhodes