Gig Review by Andrew Lindsay with Photography by John Bentley

“Very formal in here… too good for the likes of us”, deadpans Teddy Thompson. We are in the Stoller Hall, an £8.7m, 480 seated auditorium with state of the art acoustics. Opened last year, it is part of the nearby Chetham’s School of Music. While the sound is dangerously good it is not the most suitable venue for tonight’s acts: the lighting is unvaried and bright and the air of formality inhibits intimacy.

Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, The Stoller Hall, Manchester, 29/01/18

Thompson was selected to produce and play on the headliners’ recent album partly because of his experience producing his own family album (his mother and father, in particular, are quite well known) and for his duets album with Kelly Jones. His support slot is welcome and he delivers an upbeat set. ‘The One I Can’t Have’ is wryly comic; ‘Record Player’ a nostalgic Buddy Holly infused longing for “a time before I was born”. Alone with guitar (particularly effective on ‘Love Take Me Away’) his set is interspersed with musings about the Manchester tram system and Karl Marx, who studied at the library next door. Best of all are his final two numbers – the countrified ‘Change of Heart’ and a rousing cover of The Zombies’ ‘She’s Not There’.

Teddy Thompson, The Stoller Hall, Manchester, 29/01/18

Following the interval a guitarist; drummer and bassist take the stage and do a short warm up to herald the entrance of Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer. The two are sisters, raised in rural Alabama, bound and sometimes separated by a deeply tragic event witnessed during their teenage years. Both went on to individual and critically acclaimed recording careers but, now as ‘forty-somethings’, they have just recorded their first album together. Tonight they play all ten songs from Not Dark Yet in virtual track-list order. Looking every inch the elegant rockers that they are it is on the country songs remembered from their childhood: ‘Everytime You Leave’ and ‘I’m Looking for Blue Eyes’ that they excel. The standout this evening, as well as on the album, is the cover of Jason Isbel/Amanda Shires seldom heard rarity ‘The Colour of a Cloudy Day’.

Shelby Lynne, The Stoller Hall, Manchester, 29/01/18

What makes it so good is the vocal interplay especially on the oft—repeated line ‘I can never find you in my dreams’ as the sisters stand close, strumming their guitars facing one another. Indeed the eye contact between the two is constant throughout the evening.

After this peak they launch into ‘Silver Wings’ on which Shelby messes up the vocal and brings the number to a halt. “That was my bad…after all these years singing it you’d figure we had decided who takes the first verse!”. It is all good humoured stuff even when Shelby, musical director, tells the drummer to speed it up while Allison says it was all just fine.

Allison Moorer, The Stoller Hall, Manchester, 29/01/18

Nick Cave’s ‘Into My Arms’ follows with Allison playing a very beautiful grand piano (is this on tour with them?). She and Shelby trade verses in between some nice guitar parts and some rather loud drumming. There’s a pause before the next number as the guitarist, who seems slightly surprised, asks “oh we’re going to do it?”. And they are off into a grungy take of Nirvana’s ‘Lithium’ with Shelby belting out the vocal. This curveball certainly shakes up what has hitherto been a rather sedate evening but it doesn’t really work in the confines of the Stoller Hall. Sensibly Moorer’s piano picks up at the end of the blow-out allowing no pause as she plays the introduction to ‘Is it Too Much?’ This is the only self-penned track on the album and it is a stunner. While individually the sisters have addressed the tragedy that befell them this is the first time that they have written together: “Don’t you know you ain’t by yourself?/I’m right here to help you” they sing directly to one another. It is a cathartic affecting moment and would be truly wondrous if delivered a capella.

Shelby Lynne, The Stoller Hall, Manchester, 29/01/18

The six songs that follow, some stretching back to the late 1990s, were all written by one sister about the other. Some focus on their home state of Alabama – “ooh I feel the bayou now” – but even they are about home, sisterhood and family. ‘I’ll Hold Your Head’ closes the show but not before morphing into a old tune from the 1920s on which they used to do three part harmonies with their mother: ‘When they’ve had all their quarrels and parted/We’ll be the same as we started/Just to travel along singing a song…’

Allison Moorer, The Stoller Hall, Manchester, 29/01/18

The song title is omitted. There is no encore.

Setlist: Everytime You Leave (Louvin Brothers); My List (The Killers); Not Dark Yet (Dylan); I’m Looking for Blue Eyes (Colter); Lungs (Van Zandt); The Colour of a Cloudy Day (Isbel/Shires); Silver Wings (Haggard); Into My Arms (Cave); Lithium (Nirvana); Is It Too Much (Lynne/Moorer); She Knows Where She Goes (Lynne); Alabama Song (Moorer); Where I’m From (Lynne); Easy In the Summertime (Moorer); Miss You Sissy (Lynne); Thunderstorm/Hurricane (Moorer); I’ll Hold Your Head (Lynne).

Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, The Stoller Hall, Manchester, 29/01/18

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