A balmy night at the end of June or a dreary rainy one at the beginning of November? Covid stepped in to determine the latter and who could argue that a darker background wasn't a more appropriate setting to showcase an album shining a light on life's darker corners. THE STRUGGLE broadly announces its arrival from a title landing the first blow and it evolves into a piece of recorded art deserving a platform for dissection. When you have waited a decade to turn the clocks back to a more solo focussed period of a career, maximising its effect is high on the agenda. Michael Weston King felt the presence of Clovis Phillips is the only just way of truly opening the pages of THE STRUGGLE and that an old favourite venue in the Kitchen Garden was an ideal place to ease out the contents of a record ripened by acute ears. Circumnavigating suburban Birmingham's flooded roads for an hour did briefly yearn for sunny June, but the prize of candid exposure ebbed away the endeavour. This show epitomised the crack that 'live only happens once'.
The notion behind this last phrase keeps live music fresh and unique. Presenting an album from start to finish sprinkled with relevant blurb, fruitful addendum and light hearted irreverence twists the process of listening to music. The afforded space blended the extra dimensional factor of an ultra-talented guitarist sidekick and a singer-songwriter blessed with the in-built ability to frame sincere lyrics in a premium melody. An album on its own sparks imagination; an album altering the listening process in settings like this directs attentive minds to a host of audio and visual nuances.
There was an additional defined duality to a show postponed from its original June date due to Clovis Phillips being struck down in a summer wave that seemingly eventually got the rest of us. The nine tracks of the album padded out well past an hour then seamlessly drifted into the wider realm of Michael Weston King's lifelong calling to make music with intent. No interval to an intense show extending to near the hour and three-quarter mark does evoke some pondering of convention, groove and effect. Numerous factors will always come into play and for once the unbroken connection trumped the concentration reset. Upon lifting the needle from the present, the duo briefly interspersed songs from My Darling Clementine, The Good Sons and Michael Weston King solo phase one.
A scholarly breeze drifts from Michael Weston King's enthusiasm for peer inspiration. Fair enough peers may stretch things a little back to classic singer-songwriters of the 60s, 70s and 80s, but they embed into the approach of contemporary artists. Being schooled in the well of Prine, Leven, Case, Newbury, Costello, Lowe, Van Zandt and Winchester was proudly quoted from the stage this evening, and it is not unknown to return from a Michael Weston King/My Darling Clementine show to seek not one of his records out, but one of an old artist extolled on the evening. Jesse Winchester being the latest recipient.
While verbatim live shows don't exist, the effect of Clovis Phillips and Michael Weston King collaborating is open to repetition. Likewise as long as new music is being made, whether My Darling Clementine or solo, the live accompaniment will continue to add value. Those making the Kitchen Garden their wise leisure choice this evening had both a unique and special experience. One of 2022's most absorbing records had an intrinsic and skeletal airing combining pinpointed musicianship and proud creator presentation.
*** The Struggle was released in April 2022 and was the first Michael Weston King solo album since 2010. The intervening decade has seen concentration on four My Darling Clementine albums and other ad hoc projects. This show played the album in track order, obviously omitting the reprise. The second part of this show shared solo recorded older songs 'Life is Fine', 'Hey Ma I'm Coming Home', and 'Celestial City'; 'I No Longer Take Pride' from the My Darling Clementine back catalogue and 'Riding the Range', an old Good Sons song later cut by Townes Van Zandt. The evening concluded with a version of Joe Henry's 'You Can't Fail Me Now'***