Monday 06th December

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Map Café: Raie + Caroline Archer

| Culture, Hidden London, Music, Venues | 30/07/2013

Raie: all performers were obviously enjoying themselves, and the groove was infectious.

The Map Studio Café, Kentish Town

First up was Caroline Archer in support: an adept guitarist with an earthy, smoky voice. She performed original material sounding a little like a young Joan Armatrading, especially when using portamento. Caroline’s fairytale for modern times had the topical title ‘Dreaming for My Prince’ and was followed by another aspirational fable ‘Higher’. Then ‘Concrete Corners’ which despite its name gently spiralled out, in turns intensifying or winding down. Caroline demonstrated a sharp sense of phrasing in the delivery and structure of her songs, and was warmly received by the packed house.

No criticism of Ms Archer but Raie’s cheeky repartee as the eponymous lead of her top-drawer combo could easily warm-up solo. In a stylish grey retro dress, buckles winking as the house-lights dimmed, she opened with the beautiful, blustery ‘Blackbird’. Its repeated instruction to “get up, get ready” seemed apt. The double whammy of sunshine-Raie and heady rhythm, and the audience were reeling in their seats.

The band slipped effortlessly from smooth to jauntier numbers in a carefully balanced set. Ripples of summer rain only enhanced a repertoire connected to the natural world and our relationships with it and within it. Long-standing fans nodded in welcome return to the mellifluous trumpet of Alaric Taylor. And, as always, superb backing vocalists, on this occasion Nathan Devonte, Bukola Abdul and Nazarene. Their harmonisations were deftly underscored by the very gifted guitarist and double-bassist Mike Comber. Meanwhile, Yusuf Alao on drums demonstrated a light touch never stilted in accompaniment to the often changing moods ascribed in each piece.

The music drew on wide influences not only of Blues, Jazz and Soul but also Hip-Hop, Rock and Pop. Raie clearly has a passion for exploration but reins it in so that the band can let loose. At the rhythmic close of ‘Blood’ for example, the energy burgeoned some blistering harmonies and delirious vocal patterning. On keys, MD Manley O’Connor’s delectably atonal breaks jigsawed into other forces forming a sensational sound-scape. It was great to hear the keyboard’s varied colours seeping through a range of arrangements. Raie drew-back with just vocal and keys for ‘Asia’ – an anthem to motherhood paralleled with experiences of travel in India – traversing the plaintive to a jazzy vibrato in near self-harmony.

Raie (aka Rachel Bennett) in full force.

Raie (aka Rachel Bennett) in full force.

‘East’ however discarded the keyboard, layering drums with acoustic guitar. This flirty little number was exceedingly entertaining – ‘East’ and ‘eat’ the cleverest pun on sex and cuisine that Carmen Miranda could have tipped her fruit-stacked hat to. Raie relished its slinky and tuneful narrative, working every available line (of the song and her body) and the response was uproarious. Her engagement with the audience made the evening, and she confided that “you write the songs and then they just go on by… they’re not really yours; you’re the vessel…” Raie should only be wary of explaining them away because listeners imprint their own meanings and these magical works befit some mystery.

From an embarrassment of riches it’s embarrassing to have to pick a few. ‘Melody for Ruth’ unravelled and rewound on cyclic hooks, casting-off at a serene instrumental conclusion. ‘Jasmine’s Story’ spun the most poignant of yarns about meeting the bereaved partner of an old flame. If that’s tricky to articulate then there’s a rationale for song-writing, as through music Raie pitched it perfectly. ‘This Thing Called Love’ bounced along with a Countrified swing and a deep swooping beat. No one was letting this girl go without an encore, least of all the punter pleading for the knock-your-socks-off ‘Whiskey Song’. Still in Country mode, Raie would have given Bonnie Raitt a run for her money – though you imagine instead the two would be BFFs setting their worlds to rights over lashings of fire-water.

Raie had raised her bar, and the patrons were raising the roof. “I’ve really had the best time ever!” she gasped in elation. Cheers Raie, we can all raise a glass to that.

– Martin Slidel


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