JT Nero & Allison Russell (Po’ Girl) at Cluny II, Newcastle. Dec 2011
JT Nero & Russell
Jumping Hot Club,
Cluny II, Newcastle
JT Nero’s songs are completely different from anything else you’ve ever heard; they can be quite ethereal and don’t always make sense as they are full of dreamlike melodic tales of bees, balloons, funerals, crows and rainbows plus; his use of ice-cream as metaphor has to be heard to be believed.
A rising star on the Americana scene, Nero has been a fairly regular visitor to Newcastle in the last few years supporting his last two exceptional CD’s but Allison Russell’s other band Po’ Girl has flown under my radar and with hindsight that is a massive mistake on my part.
JT has a silky smooth voice that is best described as Country meets Soul but Allison Russell’s singing is so smooth and cool she could easily have been a Motown star in another life. Add their voices together and then combine the superb guitar playing of Joe Faulhaber with Allison Russell’s dexterity on the banjo, ukulele (called Dinah) and the clarinet you have Roots music made in Heaven.
Nero & Russell were like a breath of fresh air tonight, as they weren’t actually touring in support of a new record but just for the enjoyment of being on stage; although they did road test quite a few songs from an album that they are planning for 2012. The two one hour sets were a delightful mixture of stripped down songs predominantly from JT Nero’s Mountains/Forests and the new 10 songs from the as yet unnamed new album.
The evening began with three quite brittle songs as the trio ‘found their feet’ but tonights particular version of Mountains/Forests was especially spine tingling and the first new song of the evening; Galaxy Ballroom was a slow Waltz that had jokingly been written with Emmylou in mind, but was a perfect silk glove for Allison Russell to slide her voice into and brought the small audience to life at the end.
When JT took the lead vocal on Grey Ghost and Lowlanders they became so crisp and intimate it was as if they were brand new songs. Then, when the ever smiling Russell took the lead the whole mood changed again, as her voice reminded me of a young Diana Ross; only with a banjo and acoustic guitar accompaniment. The new songs coupled with Nero & Russell’s harmonies and complimentary vocal styles left the hair on the back of my neck standing on end and I can’t wait for the album’s release in late Spring 2012.
I don’t know what the relationship between Nero and Russell is, but when ever the pretty young lady took the lead vocals or played a solo on her instruments JT looked on with love and pride in his eyes like a caring father; rather than lustful lover.
After playing for 100 minutes JT, Allison and Joe returned to the stage for a peculiar choice of song for an encore – ex-Wailer; Peter Tosh’s Oppressive Man but it turned out to be an ace up the sleeve; as their folk/Americana treatment peeled away the reggae layers and left us with a beautiful and striking protest song which was perfect for the times we find ourselves in.
Sadly; Cluny II only had about 40 people in the audience tonight but those present witnessed the beginning of a partnership that is destined to be a highlight of 2012.