Great wolves

Martin Longley sampled yet another fine night of rootsy sounds in Kings Heath.

Grey Wolf
The Kitchen Garden Café
September 7th

Grey Wolf specialise in old time Stateside folk music, principally from Appalachian parts, although they do habitually trawl back across the Atlantic to acknowledge Irish and British roots. Sometimes a tune might swim over there and back, and then overseas again, constantly re-configuring itself, subject to folk evolution.

They hail from Ludlow, and the line-up is Jim Allen (banjo), Ben Walsh (fiddle) and Martin Thomas (guitar/mandolin), although there is a certain amount of swapping around between the latter pair. The trio were relatively fresh from their two appearances at the Moseley Folk Festival, and this was an opportunity to catch them in an extremely intimate setting, at this cosy Kings Heath home of roots music.

The wolves banter and bicker like an old married threesome, constantly poking fun at each other, and at their general circumstances. Despite mocking Allen’s difficult time with tuning, and poking a sharp stick at the banjo in general, their antics are pretty amusing, providing added entertainment between the tunes. They also sling in a number of less expected songs, by Diana Jones, for instance, the recently rising Nashville singer-songwriter. Then there’s the more likely inclusion of numbers by Doc Watson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

They also played Cuckoo, an innocent-sounding song whose roots lie in Medieval England, but which might actually be dealing with the realms of sexual commodity. Allen displayed his skills in the frailing style, with Thomas handling most of the vocal numbers, the three of them rejoicing in the kind of rapport that’s only possible within a frequently-together unit.

There’s an equality to the group spread of sound, but each player is continually soloing-in-motion, rising up in turn, according to where the ears of the audience might alight at any one moment.