Live Review: Kaia Kater & Rachel Baiman @ Celtic Connections

On a frosty evening in January what better way to thaw out than listening to some fine folk music from some of the genre’s most interesting young talents. Kaia Kater had impressed the crowd earlier in the week supporting Rhiannon Giddens and the audience who came to see her at the stunning St Andrews in the Square venue were also lucky enough to hear the infectious talents of Rachel Baiman and her band.

Baiman released her excellent album Shame in 2017 and opened the show with two of the best songs on there – I Could Have Been Your Lover Too and the blisteringly good title track, which demonstrated her fine fiddle skills and feisty feminism perfectly. Accompanying her on stage were Shelby Means on double bass and Cy Winstanley on guitar, both of whom also impressed when they took the mic to sing a song each. Surprise guest Molly Tuttle joined in for the bluegrass number ‘Tent City’ from Baiman’s recent Thanksgiving EP, and she showed off the insane guitar skills which won her the ‘Bluegrass Guitarist of the Year’ award twice. At the end of the show Baiman sang a cover of Andy Irvine’s Never Tire of the Road in tribute to Woody Guthrie and singing out against fascists was a fine way to end a special set by superbly talented musicians.

Kaia Kater’s set was mainly focused on her recent album Grenades, which was inspired by her father’s experiences during the Grenadian revolution and subsequently as a refugee in Canada. The songs Kaiter played were interspersed with newsreels and snippets of interviews, contextualising these moments of personal and political history. Tracks like Meridian Ground, Grenades and Starry Day were serious, poetic and tightly woven wonders.

On La Misere, her band broke from their usual style to join together for a moment of shared joy around the microphone. A song inspired by horror movie ‘Let the Right One In’ and a cover of Frank Ocean’s Swim Good showed Kater’s connection to contemporary culture too. In many ways this performance proved her to be a singer with ambitions to go well beyond the confines of vintage folk and banjo music.

The highlight of the evening was Poets Be Buried, a tender and moving song which she wrote to conclude her father’s story. Before she began there was a moment of hushed reverence which, like the song itself, felt like a prayer for a better future. Through her powerful testimony and entrancing music Kater won the respect and appreciation of the audience. An intriguing and intelligent talent like this is worth paying attention to.

Kaia Kater returns to the U.K. for more dates in May: https://kaiakater.com/shows

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