For anyone thrilled to hear that Freakwater had not only reconvened but were releasing new material (this year’s excellent Scheherezade), finding out they were making a rare visit to the UK was a big deal.
The core duo of Catherine Irwin and Janet Bean – the former possessed of a rich and resonant voice, the latter something altogether more ‘high and lonesome’ – have been performing together for 20+ years and between songs are like a particularly incisive comic double act (topics covered included dismantling banjos with wrenches, prolapsed anuses and the presidential race) but it’s what they do in the songs, their harmonies so sweet and pure that it breaks your heart, that the magic happens.
The fiddle and guitar backing to their own guitars and banjos was understated but effective, providing a real Carter Family vibe (appropriately they kicked off with Keep On The Sunny Side). The new stuff sounded great but it was a couple of older songs, Forgettable Song and a devastating Gone To Stay that hit hardest.
What they do – mining the deep melancholy and heartache of traditional country but basing it very much in the modern world – is a hard thing to get right, but Freakwater get it right over and over and leave you feeling wrung out afterward.