The Songbirds'The Songbirds’ concert performing at various club venues around NSW is a rare type of performance and a thoroughly entertaining event.

It is an example of the Country and Western genre and features Beccy Cole, Gina Jeffreys and Sara Storer each of whom performs regularly in her own right. It is this aspect of the show that lends to it its most unusual and entertaining feature, the cross over of styles.

Most performers borrow from other writers and fellow performers but the work is perforce remodeled and presented in the performer’s own style. In the case of a group there is an homogeneity that pervades the material regardless of its variety. This is very much in evidence in C& W where much of the material has been originally worked. It is also evident in the related rock genre however there the bells and whistles tend to distract from the fact.

C & W has gained a reputation for bathos. Andrew Denton recently introduced a special audience guest, One Man. On hearing that he had returned to Australia having dropped out of university, broken up with his girlfriend, was unemployed and all but broke he quipped, ‘You must have felt like you were living your own Country and Western song.’

It certainly is a genre that risks becoming musical melodrama with a repetitive rhythm that at times palls. In this performance it doesn’t.

It becomes very apparent early in the show that the three performers are really ‘like chalk and cheese’ as Storer herself observes. Storer is possibly the most visibly disparate of the group bringing to her work a touching lyrical earthiness that reflects a ‘mallee’ heritage. Her companions are both more centred in a commercial background, Jeffreys from regional Queensland and Cole from South Australia. It is this disparity among the performers that so effectively raises it from the ordinary melee of C & W.

Cole is the power house of the production and her personal interpretation of the Storer work, ‘Buffalo Bill’ was a show stopper. The crossover captured with great deftness the original sentiment yet allowed it to run in a rock tormented torrent where in its original form it sedately measures its way rather like the Darling.

The concert presented all three women performing solo as they normally are want to do as well as in tandem. Cole’s natural gumption delivered a highly energized act. She has mastered the ubiquitous personalized patter that marks these concerts with revelations on past marriages, family traits and the like with ribald good humour.

Jeffreys performs in a more reflective style which marks the mainstream of C & W in this country and reflects an eye for marketing the product. Her strength is undoubtedly in the wonderfully resonant soulful voice that fills the space. The patter however seems at times contrived and unnecessarily laboured.

Storer appeared at times awkward with the variety of material but certainly provided another level of appreciation to the whole and is an undoubtedly original talent. Her beautifully lyrical treatment of subjects with which she has a profound intimacy is something to marvel at. She provided the high tones to a canvass that might otherwise have resonated too heavily in the middle range. Her patter has been developed on a touchingly honest self deprecation that has sometimes been seen in stand up comedy. It can at times leave the audience with the sense that they may have been eavesdropping.

While rock generally metamorphoses into events where lighting, movement and sheer volume of sound carries the show to its ultimate crescendo C & W has generally retained a more intimate less flamboyant form of presentation. Storer’s delivery reflects the almost static presentation where the musical item is largely unembellished. Cole, while far more dynamic, still leaves her segment to stand largely on its own although this may reflects the constraints of the venue.

Cole convincingly demonstrates that by adding a further dimension of entertainment the audience is guaranteed of a hugely bigger ‘bang’ for its effort in taking their music ‘live’ as opposed to sucking up the synthesized product through their Ipods. Even the reflective ‘Poster Girl’ presents a whole new vitality when accompanied by the lively embodiment of its author.  Her muting of the rhyme in ‘Australian’, which has been over accentuated in recordings, shows a preparedness to seek more subtle interpretations of her verse.

The backing band comprised Mick Albeck, fiddle, Duncan Toombs and James Gillard, acoustic guitars and vocals, Mal Lancaster, drums and Ian Lees, bass. They displayed a chameleon characteristic in devising the accompaniment to all three styles. It reflected every facet of the several faces presented on the night and managed to move the musical ambience effortlessly from the high ‘raunch’ of Cole’s ‘Lazy Bones’ to the gentle lyric of Storer’s ’Beautiful Circle’ and cover everything in between.

It was a rare display of quite unique talents that coalesced into a sustained unified show both hugely entertaining and at times quite poignant. The show had heart and soul and at times even balls (of a doubtless ovarian kind).

The Songbirds
Beccy Cole, Gina Jeffreys and Sara Storer

Touring Nationally - for further information and tour dates

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