Icing On The Gig-Cake
As I wrote in my recent review of The Delines in Bristol, it was a genuine pleasure to meet and hear their support act Fernando. It was evident then and since in my research that there is considerable love for Fernando from the band and the Portland music community: not surprising as he is such a friendly and enthusiastic person [I have mentioned his genuine joy at performing here in the UK, and this has been articulated further on his Facebook page, apart from a fight he had and lost with an English breakfast fry-up].
On the strength of his actual performance on the night, but also that warm Portland musical camaraderie, I searched out and bought a couple of his cds, Old Man Motel Domingo and True Instigator. The two immediate qualities that make one wonder how and why he isn’t better known are his songwriting and beautiful vocal. I heard a harsher voice live, but one which has that pleasing grit ground out from experience and emotion, yet on these two albums – certainly TI - there is also a sweetness and gentle strength that resounds from the many slower, balladic folk numbers – I mean ‘folk’ in that Americana tradition. The more recent True Instigator has Fernando to the fore but with subtle and/or atmospheric instrumental and vocal support, as with the screeching guitar that adds a haunting tone to the cover of Hank Williams’ Angel of Death. The title track is an actual rock number, and this is interesting when one has only heard Fernando as a live acoustic performer – there is a Steve Earle feel to the driving beat, but Fernando’s vocal is by contrast a much clearer though nonetheless powerful part. Third It’s A Shame is by another contrast a softer, pop-rock track that reminds a little of the Everlys, probably in its early 60s rhythm and lilt.
There is a danger in always citing reference points, but as ever I do so as compliment and defining. The rock’n’roll nod of fourth Tribulation Waltz perhaps tells us a little more of where the influences come from, but by now the vocal is established as distinct. It is a wonderful instrument. And it is a wonderful set of songs. I will just also mention tenth Selos which is sung in Fernando’s native Argentinian/Spanish, and it begins a cappella before the guitar twang and organ accompaniment add that atmospheric layer to the beauty of the song and the singing. The vocal harmonies here and elsewhere – not sure by whom – are sweetly tight.
Old Man Motel Domingo is overall a rockier affair, and perhaps this itself reflects Fernando’s earlier role in ‘hard rock’ band Monkey Paw which I haven’t been able to track down for a listen. But there are classic folk numbers here too as with fourth So. California with plucked acoustic guitar and an echo of The Byrds a la Ballad of Easy Rider era. I do like the simple sweetness of this. That rockier edge, and grit-in-the-vocal can be heard on seventh track Swing Low which is a prison dirge in both its storyline and grinding rhythm – a potent song [and followed by a somewhat poppy Old Man Motel that evokes the Beatles and one of their many whimsies]. Eleventh and penultimate Angeline is a Country folk delight that rounds up the eclecticism of this earlier work, but it also therefore embraces and exemplifies that breadth of Fernando’s musical history and experience, one that, as I have said, deserves more recognition.
In the glorious way a support act can be the icing on the gig-cake when going to see a favourite act, I am pleased to have met and heard Fernando, and to now recognise him as a memorable artist and perhaps pass this on to others. As any genuine good reference will conclude, I commend him to you without reservation. We should all look forward to his new album out in early 2015.