27 Feb 2024
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Gig Review: Ministry of Folk @ Auckland Folk Festival - 26/01/2024

30 Jan 2024 // A review by Maggie Cocco
The Ministry of Folk brought a smorgasbord of top NZ talent to the 51st Auckland Folk Festival. Known as the “alternative folk club”, The Ministry platformed a variety of folk-infused singer-songwriters.

House band HOOP opened the night with a diverse bouquet from their vast repertoire of original songs composed by singer-songwriters Al Baxter and Nick Edgar. From charming scenes of childhood play on summer nights and road trips, to immigrant anthems longing for the homeland, HOOP took listeners on a journey through time and place. A thoughtful rendition of Karanga Mai featuring an inspired solo from violinist Emily Allen was an audience favourite, and it wouldn’t be a HOOP performance without a bit of pointed political remarks. Tunes such as Trickle Down and, Rabbit Hole, poked fun at societal foibles and your conspiracy-theory prone relatives whilst offering the jammiest, funkiest, reggae influenced folk of the fest.

Tom Cunliffe stopped time when he launched into his first song without prelude. His lovely timbre with its distinct and classic folky tremolo gives his originals a timeless feel. His voice is an instrument that lulls, urges and compels. Dynamic swells from note to note and lingering diction, while sometimes obscuring the lyrics, made his melodies drip with emotion. Lyrics that stand out feature sincere poetry stacked with vivid imagery. Cunliffe spoke few, softly spoken words between songs, encouraging the audience to lean in and let the music do the talking. “This song is about what colours and sounds look like together” is all that preceded a crowd favourite about the artist’s experience with synesthesia called Colour Wheel. Looking dreamily into the audience, Cunliffe is a rare artist who looks at and through you.

Bill Angus and the Mighty Ways – Bill Angus (vocals/guitars), Emily Allen (violin/viola) and Maggie Cocco (backing vocals) – took the audience on a Neil Gaiman-esque journey from love and vulnerability to the apocalypse. Deftly combining Angus’s intimate and imaginative lyrics with intricate string and vocal arrangements, the trio swiftly entranced the audience as Angus laid bare the inspirations behind each song and himself. The Star That Came Inside, a yet to be released single about Angus’ partner and “love of my life,” encapsulates the wonder and awe experienced when a relationship is gifted from the heavens after the darkness of heartbreak and solitude. A brave and delicate composition called Walking the Wire imitates the thrill and terror experienced by musicians as they walk the figurative high wire of live performance and literal strings of their instruments, ironically underscoring his skill and dexterity as a guitarist and composer. After a celebration of all that is beautiful and complex, the title track of Angus’ latest album, All Night Before the World Began did exactly as promised and delivered an apocalyptic and timely indictment of mankind’s warlike ways to end.

Raylee Bradfield and special guest Renee Cosio produce what might have graced today’s popular airwaves if Taylor Swift or Colbie Caillat had stuck with and matured their one time pop folk vibes. Catchy melodies, hooks, clear diction, and relatable story songs and sentiments held their affectionate audience close. Bradfield and Cosio presented a cohesive blend as they share a slight huskiness to otherwise clear voices. Bradfield’s mature alto and seamless transitions from end to end of her fantastic vocal range was well complimented by Cosio’s more variable, youthful timbre. Cosio makes a strong case for living in the moment with Flowers in the Snow and Tomorrow’s Troubles. Both composers’ pieces are laden in metaphors, practical advice, and gold; “Don’t go borrowin’ tomorrow’s troubles when you might miss the gold today” (Cosio), “If you come down here when the water is here, you’ll find gold here” (Bradfield). Bradfield ended the night with a new single simply titled Gold. Much like the metal from verse to composition, the song is complicating, compelling and lustrous.

Review for Bill Angus and the Mighty Ways and photos by Micky Nogher
All other reviews by Maggie Cocco.

 

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