Gig review: Blueflint

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IT'S bluegrass, Jim, but not as we know it. For a start, the twin-vocals-and-banjos outfit Blueflint hail from Edinburgh, not Appalachia, with co-founders Deborah Arnott and Claire-Louise Neilson backed here by double bassist Hugh Kelly, fiddler Roddy Neilson and drummer Willie Molleson. Most of their material is original rather than traditional, reflecting tastes evidently shaped as much by today's Americana and alt-folk hipsters as by classic mountain music, complete with underlying Celtic influences. As well as in some songs' edgy, ambivalent, urban-folk style, these contemporary elements were most clearly at work in the often unexpected alignments and juxtaposition of the two frontwomen's voices, avoiding the obviously sweet or pretty in favour of more complex, variously nuanced effects.

This tended to work best in the starkest, most minimal arrangements, where the singing's wayward, fragile but intense chemistry shone through the clearest, recalling the sublimely idiosyncratic harmonies of Kate and Anna McGarrigle or The Roches. When the rest of the band kicked in, however, it tended to drown or flatten out the subtleties, though this mattered less in the happy-go-lucky, hootenanny-style numbers that also feature prominently in Blueflint's repertoire, both self-penned and lifted from the vintage country annals. More problematic was the basic individual calibre of Arnott and Neilson's singing, which was uneven, to say the least: when they hit the notes and the harmonies it was very beautiful and very distinctive, but a lot of the time they didn't.