Sam Outlaw – The Tuning Fork, 30 November 2017

Hard to believe that Sam Outlaw has only been doing this music thing for the last few years, with just two albums under his belt. He took the stage, alongside guitarist/vocalist Molly Jenson, at The Tuning Fork last night like he’s been doing this his whole life, jumping into a solid set of southern California honky-tonk mixed with a solid dose of twang, misery and old-time religion.

Outlaw opened with a couple of happy tunes – dedicated to his wife, which I have to admit to not paying much attention to, as I was busy shooting the attached photos. By the third song I’d got my shots and settled down to a position front and centre and he had my full attention – important because Outlaw proved himself to be as much a storyteller as a singer/songwriter and before he got into it, he wanted us to know his life wasn’t that bad – but nobody wants to hear songs about how happy you are – then segued into the classically maudlin, She’s Playing Hard to Get (Rid Of) followed by the delightfully moribund Country Love Song. Beautiful melodies and delicate harmonies. With Outlaw and Jenson both on guitar there was no steel guitar in the mix, something I appreciated as the live sound was rougher and less sweet than the album versions of the songs.

Sam OutlawBut time for a breather as Outlaw quizzed the audience trying to find out who had seen Bon Jovi, before launching into a bit of a saga about HIS first time seeing Bon Jovi – for a laugh, cos Bon Jovi was lame and every one at the show, both men and women looked just like Bon Jovi, and Bon Jovi didn’t matter. But then Bon Jovi took the stage and played a solid two and a half hours of hits and even though he, Sam Outlaw, had never in his life listened to Bon Jovi – he knew the words to every single song. And by the time Bon Jovi told the audience they were going to play the national anthem for an encore – and then broke into Dead or Alive – Sam Outlaw had learned something. I’m not sure what it was, but it lead to Tenderheart, another country weeper. Next was a quick lesson on how to start drinking in the morning California style with brunch and Bottomless Mimosas. Molly Jenson’s voice was nothing short of amazing as she moved from delicate soprano harmonies to a roar, drawing thunderous applause.

She also proved to be Outlaw’s equal as she mocked his long, jabbering breaks and refusal to work with a set list, resulting in a show that was more troubadour than strictly music. Running jokes, childhood memories, American Christianity and Flight of the Conchords all wove their way in between some of the best old-school country songs I’ve heard in a long long time. Jesus Take the Wheel (and Drive Me to a Bar,) Cry for Me, and Trouble all draw from the same country tradition as Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty – tragic, humourous and played perfectly straight.

After promising us a few hundred songs (out of his current catalogue of twenty-five), Outlaw gave us just fifteen, wrapping the show with a solid rendition of Trouble. The encore was a pleasant surprise as the two of them returned with a two-song acoustic set, played in the middle of the audience, finishing off with a George Strait tune, One Night at a Time. Everyone went home happy.

Veronica McLaughlin

Sam Outlaw Set List
  1. ??
  2. ??
  3. She’s Playing Hard to Get (Rid Of)
  4. Country Love Song
  5. Tenderheart
  6. Bottomless Mimosas
  7. Diamond Ring
  8. Jesus Take the Wheel (and Drive Me to a Bar)
  9. Angeleno
  10. Ghost Town
  11. Cry for Me
  12. Juanita (Gram Parsons cover)
  13. Look at You Now
  14. Keep it Interesting
  15. Trouble

16. All My Life
17. One Night at a Time (George Strait cover)

Opener Courtney Marie Andrews (who was utterly fabulous – a singer/songwriter who deserves to headline on her own.)
Sam Outlaw & Molly Jenson