Live Review – Amythyst Kiah @ Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival

Hailing from Johnson City, Tennessee Amythyst Kiah is a contemporary blues and folk singer, with a real connection to the history of Appalachian music. This was the second of her two shows at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues festival where she has successfully performed for the last three years. The audience in the Piccolo venue were treated to an evening of stories and songs from a troubadour of the highest quality.

In the beautiful setting of George Square the tent was perfectly set up for an intimate acoustic performance like Kiah’s. She started with the Vera Hall song Trouble But God (exactly the same song that started the Queens of the Blues show the day before) but added guitar to this usually acapella blues number, which was famously sampled by Moby.

Kiah told us stories and the history of each song before playing them, explaining how she spent time studying the field recordings of songs from the 1930s. At university her interest in this kind of music led to her being in the ‘Old Time Pride Band’. From there she studied traditional music and bluegrass, learning about the history of black banjo players.

As she explained to the crowd there was a tradition of all races playing traditional folk music before they became segregated by genre. The split meant white people sang the ‘hillbilly’ country music and black people sang the blues. Kiah’s song choices covered both blues and country songs like the Carter family’s Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow and Dolly Parton’s Jolene, showing she is trying to reclaim hillbilly music for herself and bridge the divide once more.

Her original songs fit seamlessly among the historical numbers and in particular Hangover Blues and Myth stood out in their power and intensity. Another highlight was a new song called The Worst. She ironically introduced it as a ‘love song’ and its central refrain about always expecting the worst in relationships made an immediate impression. Her new album will hopefully be released in 2019 and she has been working with Dirk Powell who recently collaborated with Rhiannon Giddens on Freedom Highway.The brooding Southern gothic of these songs creates a haunting atmosphere in the heat of the festival tent. However there was a lighter moment when she performed a humorous take on Riley Puckett’s ‘I’m Getting Ready To Go’, a song about a dream of hell and the promise of redemption.

During the show Kiah explained how she first came to the attention of festival bookers in Scotland when a video of her performing attracted attention on YouTube. This brought her a fully funded trip to the Southern Fried festival in Perth, which then led her to a booking agent who helped her to play shows across the U.K. Appreciation for blues and country music is strong in Scotland and it is wonderful that a festival like this one exposes audiences to a range of diverse voices like Kiah’s. It was a real pleasure to spend time listening to this impressive musician.

You can catch Amythyst Kiah at Southern Fried in Perth and the Cambridge Folk Festival as well other shows this summer. More details here:

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