Red Dirt Skinners: Live at the Blue Lamp Aberdeen
I will own up immediately. I love these guys. Not just because they are constant in their spirited campaign to put their fingers up at the blues and country police and their refusal to be comfortably filed in the genre index – although that is to be admired by any sensible commentator - but mainly for a whole host of proper musical reasons. They can sing beautifully, they can write terrific lyrics and they are both consummate musicians who can turn their hand to original work, old standards and re-interpretations all the while throwing in delicate boundary pushing border crossing harmonies.
If you have seen The Red Dirt Skinners live, you may wonder, like many other artists, whether their live performance would hold up when it is transferred to disc. Will the magic still be there? Will the recorded audience ruin the spell of the performance? Will the production standard be up to bringing you the moment without killing the event with clinical cleansing?
Live recordings can be like Marmite. I have some live recordings where the out of time clapping and the absurd yelping and screaming destroy the performance and make you wonder why the record company bothered. On the other hand, some live recordings have gone into historical legend and will always be with us. In these you are in the audience and the artist and producer lure you into a front seat where you can turn up and enjoy the show as often as you like.
The 'Live in Aberdeen' album is a terrific show piece for the duo. Although much of the audience response and stage banter has been fine-tuned down there is still more than enough in there to leave you in no doubt that this was a hellova night out with the Skinners throwing the whole package out there to a really appreciative audience. These two can move from smooth sentiment to stunning stramash in a heartbeat.
The fifteen tracks on this live concert album are taken largely from the spectrum of their previous recordings and show exactly why this duo is now so highly regarded and have been on an exciting upward trajectory for the last few years. There is something here for everyone. They both have subtle bluesy voices (Sarah can also throw in a bit of Janis when she pleases) but the set takes them from in your face country shouty swing with a rousing audience chorus (Up All Night) to tender romance (Forever Young and Lay Me Down) where the close personal relationship between them is manifest. Many have tried to classify them – blues, americana, country – but this album throws the spotlight on all their talents and you can see why they find the labels so irritating. They do what they do – and they do it like no others that I know of....
Just to make sure they won't fit in your genre box, straight out of left field, there is a quite superb arrangement of 'Space Oddity' with Rob absolutely on song, taking a powerful vocal lead and Sarah's saxophone flying with him in their tin can to the stars. This would be a show stopper on a main stream radio station let alone in an adoring club in Aberdeen.
Live recordings find you out. You can't go back and do it again and when it comes to the quality of your performance the microphone is unforgiving. This is a fine atmospheric album. The guitar, sax and voices are beautifully balanced. The smart production lets you in the door and doesn't intrude. As the gig progresses you can feel the warmth between the Skinners and their audience growing and their on-stage banter lets you in to their party.
If you want a great night out, with one of the best duos in the business then you should pull up a chair, pour the malt and put on the 'Live in Aberdeen' album.