The stage of Auckland’s beloved dive bar Whammy was graced last night by surely one of the finest songstresses it has ever hosted – the enchanting, enigmatic Ebony Lamb.
I remember her, that voice anyway, from a decade or so back in her alt-country duo Eb and Sparrow. The evolution is quite something.
Nowadays, as evidenced in her recently released debut self-titled solo album, an altogether more haunting, simmering, sultry, smoky selection of songs showcasing intimate songwriting skills and her command of that extraordinary voice.
Captivating, beautifully controlled, and capable of so so much, cruising effortlessly from upper to lower register and everywhere in between.
Ebony is just a slip of a woman, and slips onstage without fanfare with her band – Phoebe Johnson on bass and harmonies, and the very sure hands of drummer Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa – a quiet but steady, crisp, tight presence throughout.
She tells us “thank God you turned up Tamaki Makaurau.”
The pleasure is all ours.
In her more recent work, there have been comparisons with Cat Power, Beth Gibbons of Portishead. I’m thinking Angel Olsen, and Sharon Van Etten at times tonight – a magical combo of both voices – Olsen’s tenderness, Van Etten’s ferocity and focus.
But the one that springs to mind early on as she begins the set is Karen Dalton – the talented, tortured, under-rated American 1960s/70s folk singer whose shining light was snuffed out tragically after a life battling addictions.
I hear her mournful, questioning, accepting, triumphant quality in Ebony’s voice and songs.
Like Dalton, Ebony Lamb lets her voice crackle … and there is interesting timing and phrasing as she sings around the melodies, with some beautiful finger-picking. She is a fine guitarist.
‘My Daughter My Sister My Son’ showcases that lower register and there are beautiful harmonies with her bass player. Restrained drumming, but oh so tight.
‘Take My Hands At Night’ builds and swells, but holding back from a liftoff. Ebony is a banshee, a siren in this gorgeous slow-burner.
She’s a bit of a chatter too, with amusing, self-effacing banter between songs. She confesses ‘I don’t feel too scared tonight, I feel like I’m among friends.” And referencing the election, dedicates her next song to “all the twits running our lives but not being reasonable” telling us “I worked for a union for eight years ..you have to rise up ..it’s time for a revolution.”
She has been kicking around for a while and that’s a good thing – it shows in her work.
“Salt, Sand and Sea” is a bit of a Fleetwood Mac-like rocker. Driving beats. Sweet Kate Bush-like vocals. Ebony is smiling and bouncing on stage for this one.
“Midnight Is My Name” perhaps harks to her earlier endeavours – a wonderful country-ish track, fast waltz-like.
“Successful Feelings” again has beautiful harmonies and trips along, with feeling.
“Star Confessor” with its keening vocals, and spare and delicate musical arrangement, has me closing my eyes and thinking again of Karen Dalton.
“Come Put A Record On” is sensual, aching, yearning. Beats heavy again. A bit dubby even. Here’s where the Portishead comparison comes in. Slow and chugging and immensely satisfying.
Keys and strings on backing tracks flesh out the band this evening. Despite only three players on stage, it’s a sensational soundscape, and beautifully mixed – hats off, as always, to Whammy soundman Mark.
“Brother Get Me Home” sees the bass taking a lead. It’s a spare arrangement. Minimal. All hard edges. But with her honeyed vocals, a little sexy, a little dirty.
“Swim To Me” with the soft strains of waves lapping the shore closes out the set. Ebony’s voice is pure as a bell. There is such power in restraint. She’s a master, a mistress at it.
She is humble and grateful to have us share this evening with her, saying “if you come to Auckland and get a crowd, I feel like I’ve made it. You’re making my dreams come true.” Again Ebony, the pleasure is all ours.
She comes back on for a one-song encore, hailing Sinead O’ Connor and “the Purple One” Prince, with a cover of “Nothing Compares To You” . And with that, she and band take a bow .. and then, ever professional, she’s off to farewell happy punters at the door on their way out.
Perhaps still coming to a town near you, don’t miss Ebony Lamb if you get the chance.
In support tonight, Tamaki Makaurau singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer/old soul Shannon Fowler AKA Tom Lark.
Last time I saw him with full band at Whammy Bar in August, touring his album Bravestar, it was a raucous, rockin’ show, everything turned up to 11, a packed house, many dancing.
Tonight, it’s stripped back to a duo – Tom on acoustic guitar and his accomplished bass player – a much more restrained affair. A respectful acknowledgement perhaps that it’s Ebony Lamb’s show this evening.
The restraint doesn’t mask the great tunes, the fun time, the woozy, sunny, swirling, psych-folk Tom Lark excels at. Easy melodies, hippy vibes, some pretty finger-picking, low-key guitar solos – fleshed out with backing tracks/drum machine.
He looks like a hippy rocker, is a talented axeman, and threatens to wig out a couple of times – there’s fuzz and reverb and good vibes.
Most of the album tracks get a look in – ‘Bravestar’, ‘Livewires’, ‘Radioblaster’, ‘Move On’ among the standouts – the latter a beautiful tune, evocative of Wilco – that good – the vocals like Jeff Tweedy slowed-down ..but the song trips along and revs up with a welcome bit of a guitar solo toward the end.
There’s a definite American space cowboy-big sky -dreampop vibe going on in these recent songs. For some reason, I’ve scribbled in the dark that the gorgeous ‘Softserve’ sounds like rockets taking off from a cornfield in Kansas. Go figure.
Whatever it is, I like it Mr Lark. Y’all come back soon …
Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Brenna Jo Gotje:
Catch Ebony Lamb in concert tonight:
- The Others Way 2023 – Various K Road Venues: December 1, 2023 (Pt.1) - 3 December 2023
- Ebony Lamb & Tom Lark – Whammy Bar: November 10, 2023 - 11 November 2023
- Princess Chelsea – Neck Of The Woods: October 19, 2023 - 20 October 2023