by Sam Wise.
Hurrying into Vinilo a few minutes before the scheduled start of Native Harrow’s 45 minute in-store performance, a somewhat forlorn sight greeted me last night (20 November). The duo of Devin Tuel and Stephen Hams were set up in the corner of the generously sized record shop, gazing out over only about six people. They are an appealing prospect from moment one; Devin looks directly from the 70s, dark hair crowding her face, in bell bottoms and a velvet jacket. Stephen, never anything less than relaxed, has something of Kriss Kristofferson, at least in his patchwork denim shirt, seeming to have just sauntered in from a long road trip.
The husband and wife duo are both frustrated (and degreed) music journalists, who met in Brooklyn and agreed to settle on songwriting and performing as a consolation career. Devin was already performing and promoting her own work, while Stephen was working as a session sideman, playing guitar, double bass, cello, keyboards and more as he still does. Before long he dropped everything to join with his now wife and become Native Harrow, and the two have never looked back. Devin says there is nobody else she would have even considered working with in a duo, and they have developed a wonderful rapport. Many people would struggle to work with their spouse, but Devin and Stephen love it, and with their constant touring and regular moves, it’s perhaps the only reason they get to see each other at all! Native Harrow have been resident on these shores for two years, after moving around the states from New York to Nashville to Philadelphia to Denver. You might think this a particularly difficult time to come to the UK, but they are in fact finding it a relief from the current fears and toxicity of their home nation.
American they may be, but as they move into their set, unperturbed by the sparse audience, their sound is redolent of the 70s folk rock movement. Devin’s voice shimmers with a vibrato reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, but her deep tones and use of bluesy and soulful accents in the melodies defy any real comparisons. Later, she reveals to me that she has been sunk deeply into soul music for the last couple of years, and the influences are clear to hear. Native Harrow’s records ring with keyboards, flutes, strings and more, but for this intimate performance, two guitars and Devin’s voice is what you get, and it’s a wonderful experience. Exotic tunings and interesting rhythms never take the spotlight that belongs to the songs, and Devin weaves themes of home, and the missing of it, belonging and aging while Stephen pours wonderfully subtle ornamentation over them, including the most delicate slide playing I have ever heard. By the end of their set, we’re all spellbound, drawn in by the beauty of these songs, and the frank vulnerability of the performers as they talk about the music, its meaning, and their search for somewhere to be.
As simple as this performance was, their gorgeously presented album Old Kind of Magic (available on vinyl from Vinilo, and to stream online) is awash with lush instrumentation, as will be their upcoming full band tour. It’s too late to catch them at Vinilo, but they’ll be back, playing in Winchester on March 4th, at Oliver Gray’s wonderfully intimate Swiss chalet venue in Twyford. I can guarantee you it will sell out, because even as I write, more than three months in advance, only 24 of the 100 or so tickets remain, and I am about to reduce that number still further. Tickets can be found at https://www.wegottickets.com/event/562415
While we are on the topic, it seems well worth bringing up Vinilo’s in-store events. I wasn’t aware that they now have a second, much larger shop a couple of doors along from the original little shop. It makes a great performance space, and it’s a shame that more of us weren’t aware of the event. They do charge for entry, but what you get in return is generally a copy of the artist’s most recent album at a slight discount, as well as 45 minutes of liver performance and the opportunity for meet and greet and signings. Their next advertised in-store is Gaz Coombe of Supergrass fame on the 19th of January, and it would be wonderful to see these events, put on as they are by a local business, packed with the sort of crowd that wonderful artists like Native Harrow deserve. Their events page is at https://vinilo.co.uk/collections/instores
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