Review: Eef Barzelay and support

The idea for this show was first floated when Eef Barzelay, the Nashville-based musician and frontman with the alternative country band Clem Snide, approached Dave Nicholson, co-director of YorkMix and long-time Barzelay fan, with a view to putting on a solo house concert in Nicholson’s home.

Eef Barzelay/ The Howl & The Hum/ Mr Saxton

The Crescent

Nov 7, 2016

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Mindful of the confines of space and the likely interest such an event would generate, local promoter Please Please You was soon on board, a couple of support acts were booked and tonight’s show was fully realised.

A very healthy turn-out at The Crescent Community Centre this evening confirms the wisdom of these decisions.

Emerging talent

Compared to Harry Nilsson: Luke Saxton
Compared to Harry Nilsson: Luke Saxton

Support comes courtesy of two local singer-songwriters. The first is Luke Saxton, now operating under the more formal title of Mr Saxton, with the second Sam Griffiths, here playing in tandem with double bass player Bradley Blackwell as one half of the York outfit The Howl & The Hum.

Though Mr Saxton and Sam Griffiths have now been regulars on the York music scene for the last couple of years, the two young men still nestle easily and most accurately under the umbrella of emerging talent.

They are both in possession of the most supreme voices; Saxton has rightly been compared favourably with both Randy Edelman and Harry Nilsson, whilst similarities are often drawn between that of Griffiths and Jeff Buckley.

The fact that both men also have a clutch of self-written top tunes at their disposal undoubtedly helps and tonight Sam Griffiths has the additional advantage of having Bradley Blackwell at his side. Blackwell’s playing adds a fresh, muscular dimension to Griffiths’ material, elevating the stand-out song Godmanchester Chinese Bridge in particular onto a truly epic plane.

In possession of a supreme voice: Sam Griffiths
In possession of a supreme voice: Sam Griffiths

Eef Barzelay later dedicates the title song from his 2008 solo album Lose Big to Mr Saxton and Sam Griffiths. In them he probably sees much of his younger self, setting out on a musical journey with great “hope and promise”.

But you sense in doing so he is also reflecting upon the uneven trajectory of his own career and the great potential there is for thwarted ambition. 

Cult following

You can almost hear the sound of early Springsteen
You can almost hear the sound of early Springsteen

Barzelay’s career is characterised by an acclaimed back catalogue, a cult following, and a brief flirtation with success but is one ultimately devoid of any wider commercial recognition.

Tonight in The Crescent in what is Eef Barzelay’s only scheduled live UK date this year, his prodigious talent is there for all to see and hear. He passes many staging posts in his recording career which now stretches back almost 20 years to 1998 and Clem Snide’s debut album You Were A Diamond.

He opens with an a cappella reading of The Ballad of David Icke  – a tale of urban paranoia using the oft ridiculed former BBC sports presenter and professional conspiracy theorist as its titular reference point – cruises past a powerful Messiah Complex Blues, responds immediately to an audience request to play Something Beautiful, delivers an impeccable cover of The Ink Spots’ timeless classic I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire, before reaching his destination over an hour later with a quite wonderful I Love The Unknown.

Eef Barzelay’s voice travels along a broad continuum that ranges from the more traditional country croon of a Webb Pierce or Bobby Bare to the greater nasal intonation of Neil Young.

Playful irreverence

A true maverick
A true maverick

If you listen hard enough you can almost hear the sound of early, The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle-era Bruce Springsteen in there too. And just like The Boss, the detail that Barzelay invests in many of his lyrics and storylines take you into the very heart of the songs’ action.

But there is also a pronounced self-deprecation and playful irreverence with which Eef Barzelay approaches some of his work – one of his songs features the rather illuminating line “no fucks to give is the true way to live” – and you do end up wondering if this apparent disregard for his undoubted talent has contributed towards the marked absence of any wider appeal of his music.

Eef Barzelay is a true maverick, though, and his continuing refusal to play to the rules of any music industry game is ultimately to his great credit. And it is for this and his ability to produce these most special of intimate nights that we should be eternally grateful.