HOUSE CONCERTS YORK "one of the top 10 venues for up and coming acts" BBC6 Music

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Madison Violet - 19 September 2009

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''No Fool For Trying' is certainly in a class with the works of Gillian Welch or Lucinda Williams.' All My Music

Quiet, thrilling, acoustically designed songs of breathtaking beauty - and some personal tragedy. Hardly ever has alternative country/ folk sounded more intriguing.' Country Music News

Harmonies, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and upright bass. The songs wreak of heartache and loss but the listener will always find an uplifting twang in their sound, one that may invoke the essence of Lucinda WIlliams or Steve Earle.

Lisa MacIsaac (vocals, guitar, fiddle, mandolin) and Brenley MacEachern (vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica).

Review by Maverick Magazine:

"I had seen Madison Violet open for Sam Baker the pevious week, so I was really looking forward to seeing them perform a full set; not least because they were doing so in one of my favourite venues – the dining room of a cottage in a village outside of York.

Originally very much an American phenomenon, house concerts are really beginning to catch on here in the UK, too. Having now firmly established themselves on the music scene, after just 2 years of hosting gigs, House Concerts York field dozens of requests a month from artists wishing to play in their house, testament surely to what they have to offer.

Madison Violet, aka Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac, were clearly taken with the venue, commenting more than once, not only upon the intimacy of the room but the ‘beautiful gingerbread cottages.’

From the outset it was immediately obvious that both girls love what they do, trading lead vocals and harmonies and swapping between instruments; Brenley, her two guitars and Lisa, guitar, mandolin and fiddle, proving that they are not only talented writers and singers, but also very talented musicians.

Opening their set with The Ransom, they commented that when they spend 9 months of the year on the road, they normally get on really well and love it, but there are moments when they just want to go home; this song was written in one such moment and puts out there for all to see, the less glamorous side of their job.

Speaking about how, during Prohibition, alcohol was banned, resulting in lots of drunk circus clowns, they led in to Best Part of Your Love, adding that there would normally be a harmonica solo but it had a biscuit stuck in it...really.

The title track of their new CD, No Fool For Trying, followed, along with a joke that ‘We tune because we care.’ And that the guitars were moody. The country sound of this song had toes tapping all around the wooden floors.

The story of their month long stay in the caravan on Byron Bay, Australia, pre-empted their ‘rags to riches song’ as Brenley told of her prior job as a graphic designer, earning, but not being happy. Now, she told us, she ‘doesn’t have a pot to P*** in.’ But has never been happier!

I’m Your Lady, was followed by Hammer and Nail, which they asked Suzy Bogguss for permission to rec ord, after opening for the Wine, Women and Song tour. It didn’t make the album but will hopefully be an itunes release as the song is perfectly suited to their harmonies, which at times bring to mind The Judds.

LauraLee, it transpires, is based on a Cape Bretoner with fiery red hair and a personality to match. The name was changed slightly, reminding me of Kate Campbell’s story of Cissy the Beautician – poetic licence at its best!

After a break they opened the second part of the evening with one of my favourites from their first, Worry The Jury CD; Haight Ashbury. In fact I discovered I love it even more when it is stripped back so far, to guitars and vocals.

Asking if anyone had ever been handcuffed, Brenley proved the intimacy of the evening, by sharing the little divulged tale of her own experience of arrest (not her fault, I will add), the experience which prompted the song Baby in the Black and White, apparently written in less time than that for which she was handcuffed!

The wonderful Small of My Heart, called for audience participation for the ‘ooo ooo’s’ in male and female parts. The wonderful acoustics of the room carried the combined vocals of Brenley, Lisa and the audience, to create a wonderful sound.

We were again encouraged to sing, this time the part which applied to us, for Men Who Love Women Who Love Men, a tongue in cheek song, which works brilliantly live. Never was it more obvious how in tune these two are than in this song, when they stepped away from the microphone and back again in perfect synchronicity! This song again provoked much teasing of the audience by Lisa, which ended up with everyone present laughing.

Brenley next told the story of her brother, who was killed in Toronto, and of the box her father made for him. This led us into The Woodshop, which in this small room, knowing it would be the anniversary in just a few days, made it so powerful as to almost be overwhelming, evidenced by the almost reverent silence around the room as the emotion hung thick in the air. Just beautiful. Moments of such emotion are rare at gigs and this surely makes them all the more special.

Sore Heart, a song they wrote with fellow Canadian Ron Sexsmith, was next, followed by the wonderful bluegrass number, Cindy, Cindy, which Brenley learned at a folk festival when she was seventeen. Showing another side to their musical talent, enhanced tenfold by the addition of the fiddle, it reminded me very much of The Greencards, a well known bluegrass band.

Cryin’ ended their set, a song which despite being another about Brenley’s brother is actually quite optimistic; ’It’s not a bad world brother.....’

Returning for an encore, they told us of the show they were involved in called ‘Women do men’ – for which they opted to do a duo...that is a cover of a song by a duo. They chose Simon and Garfunkel and what followed was the best cover of a well known song I have ever heard as they treated us to their version of Mrs Robinson, surely not an easy song to sing by anyone’s standards.

The final song of the night was quite an apt choice, Prayed, from their Caravans CD and judging from the applause nobody quite wanted this magical night of music to end. Luckily, the gig will be up on the House Concerts York website, to listen back to, along with previous gigs.

From the first time I saw Madison Violet open for Wine, Women and Song, 2 years ago, to now, it is amazing to see how far this duo have come and I really believe big things are just around the corner for this talented duo. Getting to mingle with them after the show, I also discovered what truly lovely, down to earth people they are. I have heard rumours that they are planning to grace our shores again in early 2010 and I would advise all of you to see them at a venue near you, even if it isn’t a house concert! In the meanwhile, all of us present at House Concerts York experienced a wonderful night and until we can see these two again, I have no doubt we shall keep them and their music, in the small of our hearts. Helen Mitchell