Gig Review: Rod Picott at Twickfolk, Twickenham
‘Folk music is to be endured not enjoyed!’ Rod Picott quoted the late Bill Morrissey’s words with a wry smile during the last night of his current UK tour at the Cabbage Patch. But enjoyment clearly won out as two of the finest of today’s Nashville singer-songwriters performed a wide-ranging mix of their own material and occasional covers to a warm and receptive audience.
Support act Jon Byrd performed six self-penned songs from his two solo album releases to date, and concluded with a soulful rendition of the Dan Penn classic ‘Dark End of the Street’. His lived-in voice and intricate guitar picking are reminiscent in places of the likes of Jim Stafford and Joe South. Although a Nashville resident these days, Byrd’s roots are in Alabama. His music is enriched by this part of his heritage and he performs his songs with humour, skill and sincerity.
Both performers paid tribute to their families and in particular their fathers. Byrd’s musical formative years were based on his father’s love of Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams and his own exposure to the Beatles via the Ed Sullivan shows in 1964. Picott’s parental positioning brought him Sousa and Ray Charles while an elder brother treated him to Neil Young and the powerful punk poetry of Patti Smith and The Clash.
The Cabbage Patch audience were treated to 20 songs from Picott’s ever-growing canon of songs taken from his world of work and acutely observed and poetically drawn interpersonal relationships. Picott’s latest album, Welding Burns, contains two revealing tributes to his father, a welder and ex-Marine, and he began his set with the powerful title track that bears the chorus: Some things you’re born to, some things you’ve gotta learn. Broken homes, wrecked cars, scars and welding burns.
While concentrating on material from the new album, Picott also dipped into his back catalogue, providing the audience with stellar versions of “Angels and Acrobats”, “Circus Girl”, “On and On” and “You’re Gettin’ To Me”, a Fred Eaglesmith co-write with shades of Johnny Cash in both its lyrical content and performance style. Picott also played a sensitive version of what is perhaps his best known composition to date. Co-written with his long-standing friend and fellow musician, Slaid Cleaves, “Broke Down” won the Austin Music Awards song of the year in 2001.
Picott is well known for his wry storytelling between songs. He described how he and Cleaves met on his first day at school when they both stood out like sore thumbs compared with the local tough farm kids. Picott was wearing a purple trouser suit that his mother had dressed him in. Cleaves was loaded down with textbooks several years ahead of his grade. “We were clearly the school geeks and before long we were also best friends.”
Picott confided to his audience that he had woken with a sore throat a day or two earlier. He quipped that with his regular rough-edged vocals, his performances were scarcely any different than usual. This was certainly true in that Picott didn’t falter once.
Picott’s second tribute to his dad on Welding Burns is the touching “My Father’s Tattoo”. He prefaced this with a revealing description of his father both as a 16-year-old lying his way into the US Marines and as a septuagenarian feeding chickadees in the raw cold of a February in Maine, shirtless and cursing softly at the little birds picking seed from his outstretched hand.
As a fitting encore, he invited Byrd back to join him on a rousing audience-fuelled version of the old Hank Williams classic “Mind Your Own Business”. The loud applause that greeted the two alt-country songsmiths was enough to ensure that, in terms of their musical fortunes, their businesses could only benefit from being trumpeted as widely and loudly as possible.