Jo Harman, Mike Farris, Dom Martin. Live at London’s January Blues Festival ****

 

Bluesman Dom Martin opened the show at London’s Under The Bridge with a riveting set of earthy blues. Finishing with John Martyn‘s Easy Blues the Irishman would be a worthy headliner himself.

American Grammy-winning country-rocker Mike Farris, often in the UK with his band, thrilled the audience with a solo set. Farris was eager to get on with it and was onstage before his scheduled time. Opening with an impromptu version of Bill Withers‘ Lovely Day he created a party atmosphere and encouraged the audience to sing along for the first few numbers.

Little Tennessee Girl and Let Me Love You Baby were both tracks about his wife who had made the trip with him to London. A beautiful version of Van Morrison’s I’ll Be Your Lover, Too showed Farris’ vocal skills. He closed with Jimmie Rodgers‘ T For Texas and Porter Waggoner‘s I’ll Go Down Swinging. Farris has it all, charisma, soul, powerful delivery.

Jo Harman came to the stage for possibly her most important headline show to date. With a backing band of seven you could tell it was going to be a good night. Her regular sidekicks of guitarist Nat Martin, keyboardist Emily Francis and Martin Johnson on drums were augmented by Terry Lewis on guitar, Tony O’Malley‘s bassist Sonny Winslow and backing vocalists Natalie Palmer and Louise Ann.

Harman delivered an impressive 15-track set, pushing the 11pm curfew. The rocky Reformation began proceedings and the power of her larger than usual band impressed, the backing singers perfectly augmenting Harman’s style. The Beatles‘ Don’t Let Me Down brought a great keyboard solo from Francis and is from Harman’s new EP Signature Soul, recorded live in the studio with Stefan Redtenbacher.

The Beatles made way for Carole King and the slower tempo of Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Sideways was a track of restrained beauty with a sublime guitar solo from Lewis. Farris joined for a rousing version of Can’t Stand The Rain and took the lead on his track Movin’ Me, showing his vitality.

Lovin’ Arms closed the set with Harman letting herself go, returning for a barnstorming encore of Paul Simon’s Gone At Last and the gospel Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down. For the encore Harmon was joined by Mike Farris and legendary Kokomo vocalist Frank Collins, who unfortunately made an inelegant entrance to the stage, falling flat on his face, but he got to his feet with a typically witty comment and added his magic to the finale to bring a triumphant close to the show.

Review by Chaz Brooks