Live Review: Della Mae @ Celtic Connections

‘We live here now,’ Celia Woodsmith announced during Della Mae’s second show at Celtic Connections, such was the relaxed nature of the band and their genuine rapport with the Scottish audience. It might have been a Tuesday night but that didn’t stop them from putting on a blistering display of modern bluegrass that was warmly received by the crowd.

Opening the show was Canada’s Teilhard Frost who specialised in old time mountain music, played on rustic hand made instruments. Switching from banjo to harmonica to fiddle and even playing on an empty bottle for one song he was an impressive one man band of versatile talent. His natural charm and skill as a raconteur added to an already entertaining and enjoyable musical performance.

A festival like Celtic Connections always brings out decent audiences to see roots artists like Della Mae who might not otherwise get the same attention or promotion during the rest of the year. The band also benefited from having stepped up to fill in for the Secret Sisters in a support slot the night before, which no doubt helped to grow the audience for this show. They opened their set with a run of brilliant traditional bluegrass, bringing infectious energy  to the room and allowing each member of the five strong touring band to shine.

Grand National Fiddle Champion Kimber Ludiker founded Della Mae in 2009 in Boston and they honoured their origins with the song Boston Town. The social and political messages of these songs tell us this a band using traditional music to say something about society today, especially the role of women and the challenges they face.

Their excellent recent album Headlight might veer towards a more modern Americana sound rather than being strictly bluegrass but for me that progression has just elevated them as a musical force. The best songs from the album including The Long Game, I Can’t Pretend and The Odds of Getting Even sounded absolutely brilliant live, with lead singer Celia Woodsmith impressing with her charismatic voice (and washboard playing skills!). There was a nod to their Nashville home with the song dedicated to the First Song Dancer at the Nashville Palace and a great cover of ‘I Fall to Pieces’ by Patsy Cline.

The real star of the show was the title track from the album ‘Headlight’ – a feminist call to arms that offers compassion and understanding to women suffering everywhere. At the end of the song the man in front of me went ‘wow’ and that is the response that a song as important as this deserves.

After coming back for their encore the band finished by giving the folk festival crowd a real footstomping, heart racing bluegrass ‘tune’ to send us all home happy. It was a genuine treat to hear a band as good as this hitting their sweet spot.

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