When: 7.30pm on Friday 18 April 2014
Where: Cornerhouse Annexe, 70 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 5NH
We’re delighted to be bringing Laura Stevenson back to Manchester – her first visit since 2011!
Some day in the not too distant future, America will dip its corners deeper into the ocean, the waves ever grinding at its shores as tectonic plates shift and sink. The effect of melting icecaps on the beaches of her native Long Island is one of the triggers for Laura Stevenson’s worrying mind, as she struggles with the overwhelming notions of an infinite universe and the imminence of her own death. Obsessive musings on these subjects has led her to describe herself as an “unfunny Woody Allen,” though friends and fans might disagree, finding plenty of humour in her introspective and self-deprecating nature. The repetition of these existential questions is the driving force behind Wheel, an album brimming with life and death in the desperate search for what keeps us turning in the face of doubt, an exercise in coming to terms with the overwhelming beauty that can be found in the lack of an answer.
Laura Stevenson was born and raised on Long Island into a family of mariners and music makers. She spent many of her younger days on the sugar barges of NY harbour with her father and uncles, who all made their living on the water, at one time running one of the largest fleets on the Hudson. Meanwhile, her mother’s parents were successful musicians; Harry Simeone, the composer and choral arranger responsible for such works as The Little Drummer Boy and Do You Hear What I Hear? and Margaret McCravy (stage name McCrae), a singer from South Carolina who got her start accompanying her elder siblings The McCravy Brothers, a harmonious gospel folk duo, before continuing on her own to record and tour with bandleader Benny Goodman. Armed with her grandfather’s love for modernist dissonance, a genetic predisposition for harmony, and with her sea legs firmly planted in the traditions of American folk singing, Stevenson began creating melodies at a very young age.
Though Stevenson began writing classically on piano early on, it wasn’t until her late teens that she taught herself how to fingerpick the guitar, aspiring to have the quickness and intricacy of her ‘guitar god’, Dolly Parton. The new instrument opened up a window of creativity and Stevenson soon began writing songs heavily influenced by the writers her father had raised her on, such as Neil Young, Gram Parsons and Carole King, while also drawing inspiration from music that she discovered on her own like Leonard Cohen and Jeff Mangum. In 2010, she released her bare-bones full-length debut simply entitled A Record, which she quickly followed the year after with Sit Resist, the first solid document of her work playing with a full band. Those two albums and a healthy amount of touring brought Stevenson a dedicated fan base, drawn to her voice, her words, and her relatable down-to-earth persona.
While writing the 13 songs that make-up her newest record, Wheel, Stevenson sought to understand her place within the frame of time, nature, and among those that she loves. With her words, a careful twine of prose and humour, Stevenson manages to expose the nagging contradictions that make life so terrifying but also so worth living, how it is possible to simultaneously feel both fear and joy, the bitter aftertaste of something so beautiful it makes you sick. Themes of passage, the cycle of the moon, the seasons, and love’s ever-shifting states of dependence, are all interwoven throughout Wheel as songs ebb and flow from her band’s crashing walls of distortion and pounding drums, to sweet string-led overtures, to moments where it is just Stevenson and a guitar.
Main support comes from Rachel Hillary. Describing her music as ‘poetry set to song’, Rachel Hillary has much in common with other nu-folk artists and her live performance sees her surrounded by any combination of ukuleles, mandolins, djembe drums and banjos. She relies on spontaneity as a source of inspiration, much like the Beat poets; all kinds of great things can happen by accident. Fans of Feist, Birdy, Melanie Safka and Bob Dylan will find Rachel Hillary a complimentary addition to their (already impeccable) music catalogue.
Opening the show is Helen Chambers.
This show takes place in the Annexe of Cornerhouse, Manchester’s main cultural hub, situated on Oxford Road.
Buy tickets now. Tickets are also available from Cornerhouse’s box office, Common (both no booking fee), Piccadilly Records, Vinyl Exchange, Cornerhouse.org, Seetickets.com, WeGotTickets.com, Ticketline.co.uk and on 0871 220 0260.