Caroline Spence & Robby Hecht @ The Kitchen Garden Café, 22nd August 2018

The remarkable list of singer-songwriters advertised in the forthcoming attractions would suggest that The Kitchen Garden Café shows no intention of relinquishing its assault on cementing itself as a jewel in the crown of the Birmingham live music landscape. Soon to be added to the distinguished list of those who have performed at this intimate venue include; Erin Rae, Martin Carthy, Alasdair Roberts, Ana Egge and of course, tonight’s talented duo, Caroline Spence and Robby Hecht.

Both Spence and Hecht have healthy functioning solo careers, but since their first encounter at the Rocky Mountain Folk Festival back in 2013, they have continually been drawn back to the prospect of writing and singing with each other, an endeavour to which Hecht succinctly surmises during this evening’s performance is motivated by the simple pleasure of hearing their voices together.

This tour is in promotion of the duo’s first fully fledged album release together, ’Two People’, and this evening’s date is also the first of the tour. With that said, you could easily excuse the duo for showing signs of nerves ahead of their UK debut. In addition to the prospect of performing on these shores for the first time, tonight’s show is their first together for several months, and both performers hint at the lack of preparation time that they have had as they continually giggle at each others covert banter.

Humour plays a big part in proceedings this evening, and the tone is seared into the set from the opening song, with Hecht effortlessly leaping upon an innocent comment made by Spence, corrupting it and turning it into something altogether more crude, but extremely comical. Seconds after the salacious talk, the duo launch into the new album’s opening song, ‘Holding You’, a tonal shift from the comical to forlorn, a theme that continues for much of the evening.

The opening song, like much of the album, has an almost pop sensibility to it, though a melancholic spirit is certainly the authoritative voice. Think back to the recent trend whereby an upbeat, popular song is covered using an acoustic guitar and the saddest of sentiment. An advertising executives dream come true. By no means is this a criticism of the album, or the songs being performed this evening. Think of ‘Two People’ as an album filled with songs reminiscent of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’, with Hecht in the role of Rob Hyman, and Spence as Lauper. High praise indeed, but deservedly so.

‘All on the Table’ is the next song to be performed and as Spence reveals, was the first song that the two conceived together. A song that deals with the prospect of two people preparing to drop their shields and expose their venerable selves to each other. It’s certainly clear as to why Hecht and Spence are continually drawn to working together. ‘All on the Table’ offers plenty of opportunities to revel in the harmonies produced by the pairing. ‘A Night Together’ is up next and this see’s Hecht take the lead, with Spence providing accompaniment during the choruses. Yet another catchy number, swathed in solemn reflection, quite a difficult feat to achieve, but this seems to be a familiar trick which the Nashville duo appear to be able to pull off on many of the songs that sit on their latest album.

The crestfallen ‘Over You’ brings a close to the first half a show that has focused primarily on the new album. The attention for the second instalment centres upon Hecht and Spence’s solo material, and interestingly, via the vehicle known as “songs in the round”. Hecht and Spence explain that this is a frequent occurrence in their adopted hometown of Nashville. The concept see’s each songwriter perform a song not from their own catalogue, but from that of the other songwriter they are playing with. An interesting ploy with which to play out the remainder of the evening’s set.

The Spence penned ‘Slow Dancer’, is the first song chosen by Hecht, and the performance is one of the highlights of the evening. It’s Spence’s turn to delve into Hecht’s catalogue, and she decides upon a song that caught her ear the first time she saw him perform. ‘Pot of Gold’ is the song of choice, taken from Hecht’s 2011 release ‘Last of the Long Days’, a beautiful ode to the riches that can be discovered in the everyday.

This method of airing each others material is truly fascinating, as for several rounds, it would appear that Hecht is the beneficiary of the points judging by the reaction from the audience, but who is the winner, is it Hecht’s performance that secure’s the victory, or is it Spence’s songwriting that takes the plaudits? Let’s just call it a draw, as both performers are not in it for the points, as Hecht alluded to earlier in the show, they are here for the simple pleasure of singing together, and The Kitchen Garden Café and its attentive audience are truly lucky to have witnessed this due in such intimate surroundings.

Reviewer: Chris Curtis

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