Eb & Sparrow and The Miltones Tuning Fork October 7, 2017


This year’s Southern Fork Americana Festival began last night with two of New Zealand’s finest acts sharing the bill to kick things off in style.

But before The Miltones and Eb & Sparrow got a chance to strut their stuff, Dead Little Penny, the alt.country act fronted by Hayley Smith along with guitarist Rodney Fisher, got things underway.

The group has been inactive for about a year, and though their set was somewhat tentative, Hayley and company won the crowd over with her deeply personal songs and endearing stage presence.

I was expecting The Miltones to close out the evening given the fact that they had just sold out The Tuning Fork in July with their record release show. So I was surprised to find that they were scheduled next.

By now, the audience was crowded around the stage in anticipation of another spirited show, and The Miltones did not disappoint.

As she did previously, Milly Tabak showed what an exciting, charismatic performer she is, bringing her unique brank of electricity to the stage.

It doesn’t hurt that she was flanked by two very excellent musicians…Guy Hansen on keyboards and trumpet and guitarist Liam Pratt. Both got plenty of opportunities to show off their stuff and the audience loved it.

About three quarters through their set, Milly brought on her friend Avalon Hewitt to sing Bruce Springsteen’s I’m On Fire. The two voices blended beautifully, and Avalon stayed on to help out with, what was to be another highlight, The Miltones’ tribute to the late Tom Petty, a rockin’ version of Mary Jane’s Last Dance.

Less than an hour after they started, the band closed out their portion of the show with another stunner…Gypsy Queen, giving Liam and Guy on more chance to blow the roof off the building.

It looked like a tough act to follow, but Eb & Sparrow were up to the challenge.

Tonight the band began as a five-piece, but quickly expanded to seven with the addition of two brass players after the first song…Sharon Boyd (trombone) and Andrew Legget (trumpet).

For the record, the rest of the band consists of Jason Johnson (electric guitar & bass), Chris Winter (bass, electric guitar, trumpet), Justin Barr (drums), Bryn Heveldt (lap steel, electric guitar) and Ebony Lamb (vocals & acoustic guitar).

This was a very different Eb & Sparrow than I had seen previously. Ebony has become a commanding frontwoman herself, full of passion and confidence.

This newfound attitude found its way into the music as she infused old favourites such as The Sun and Loaded Gun with new energy and presented new songs such as To The West and Working with intensity and emotion.

The band served up their own tribute to a dead rock star…a surprising version of Sorrow, the old Merseys tune covered by David Bowie on his Pinups album. Who knew that a lap steel and brass section would work so well on the song?

The following tune, Boys & Girls also included a snippet of another old 60s gem….The Small Faces’ Itchycoo Park.

One other cover, a blistering version of Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind, also had the audience mesmerized.

But don’t worry, there was plenty of twang to be found along with the rock and soul.

With the clock ticking down to 11:00, the band closed out their set with I Won’t Settle Again and Coward Son and then squeezed in one last song, the country ballad, Working, before finally relinquishing the stage.

It looks like there is a lot of great music to come during this year’s Americana Fest, but last night’s opener will be tough to beat.

Marty Duda

Click on any image to view a phot gallery by Michael Flynn:

The Miltones set list:

  1. Pursed Lips
  2. Dancing With The Dead
  3. The Wanderer
  4. Carlos
  5. Glory
  6. Firing Away
  7. Mother’s Ruin
  8. Wildfire
  9. Song For A Friend
  10. I’m On Fire
  11. Mary Jane’s Last Dance
  12. Bye Bye Baby
  13. Gypsy Queen

Eb & Sparrow set list:

  1. Timbers
  2. Hungry Little Town
  3. The Sun
  4. To The West
  5. Sorrow
  6. Boys & Girls/Itchycoo Park
  7. Loaded Gun
  8. I’d Rather Go Blind
  9. I Won’t Settle Again
  10. Coward Son
  11. Working