Gig review: HAT FITZ & CARA ROBINSON, Boo Boo Davis– Relache Festival, Bordeaux 28 July 2016

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They say music is an international language and tonight the Australian /Irish duo Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson provide the perfect example of that, with a uplifting show that connects with their French crowd.

Faced with the graveyard shift at the Dom Bedos arena – as part of Bordeaux’s on going Relache Festival – they take the stage before the sun goes down and triumph with a set full of passion and music vitality.

It helps of course that the duo is the contrasting sum of its parts. Extrovert vocalist, drummer and flautist Cara Robinson cuts a busy, bubbly figure alongside the brooding presence and the lumberjack voice of Hat Fitz. He’s a full bearded unreconstructed Australian with a bush hat who plays slide, resonator, and electric guitar, but who tonight eschews his cigar box guitar.

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It also helps that Hat Fitz and Cara have a set of accessible, wide ranging and audience friendly material that is tailor made for festival crowd. The trick though, is to be able to engage them early and build a connection. Cara does so by throwing herself into the material with abandon; while Hat Fit’s essential guitar accompaniment – ranging from plucked notes to feverish rhythm – is the perfect foil.

They play Celtic tinged roots rock, old folk songs, shades of hill mountain blues and gospel, all sparked by Cara’s expressive vocals, subtle drums and penny whistle, while Hat Fitz adds slide, drones and tonal variety.

The crowd quickly warm to Cara’s relentless energy and soaring timbre, which in one mid-set song leads to spontaneous applause, while Hat Fitz contents himself with an exclamatory inter song: ‘oh yeah’, which Cara tells us means that he is happy.

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Cara clearly relishes the challenge of winning over an audience. She does so with a smattering of French and bundles of Irish charm, before Hat Fitz nails a bottom end groove with choogling rhythms, on a set full of subtle dynamics, plenty of variety, and judicious harmony singing.

On ‘Eliza Blue’, Cara sings over the top of Hat Fitz’s primal growl, as he derives a banjo sound from his guitar and Cara reverts to mallets. The bluesy ‘I’m Going Home’ swells like a gentle wave and the duo add a melange of bottleneck and cymbals on the intro to Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’. Cara’s sonorous voice rises from the stage like a fine mist to immerse the crowd with the raw-gut, tortured blues and remarkably draws the crowd in, despite the mournful nature of the song.

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Cara again connects with the crowd on the sing-along portion of ‘Try’, which then transforms itself into an even more crowd pleasing gospel inspired romp and leads to a great reception.

She switches to washboard for the train-time ‘Wiley Ways’ an incendiary mix of Hat Fitz’s plucking and Cara’s washboard rhythms, as they alternate between shared and lead vocals on a number with real drive.

‘Shake Down’ finds Cara switching from drums to penny whistle and back again, while Hat Fitz takes over on rudimentary bass drum. The crowd starts to jig and then Hat Fitz brings up a guitar-led drone, before the duo coalesce beautifully on harmony vocals.

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They finish with the call and response of ‘Power’, in front of a raft of dancing people, who encourage the duo to return for a fully deserved encore. Game, set and match!

Meanwhile, St. Louis born harp playing blues man Boo Boo Davis takes us back to Chicago with some droning, roadhouse rocking blues that is closer to rough-hewn garage rock than traditional Chicago blues.

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He belts out a series of perfunctory harp blasts, which although short of a truly deep tone, do bring a new dimension to a band that adds a new meaning to the term power trio.

His vocal are frequently inaudible, his harp struggles to get over the top of the guitar, but his intent, as demonstrated by his exclamatory body language, is clear. He’s a blues man who aims to give us a good time and in his own way he certainly does so.

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Review by Pete Feenstra

Photos by Anne Pioton

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