Amythyst Kiah hails from the suburbs of Chattanooga but such is her connection to the music of her home state of Tennessee, she might as well have grown up in a log cabin in the hills of Appalachia, like the Smoky Mountains’ most dedicated global ambassador, Dolly Parton. It was light relief to hear that Kiah has enjoyed a trip to Dollywood; much of the rest of her chat between songs was serious and scholarly, with an almost forensic specificity of place.
Amythyst Kiah, George Square Gardens, Edinburgh ***
Thankfully, she gave warmer expression to the material she has studied, adding her own complementary verses to Vera Hall’s Trouble So Hard (familiar to a wider audience from Moby’s Natural Blues) and Another Man Done Gone and wrapping her voice round the rise and fall of the melody of The Carter Family’s Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow, exhibiting great control without overegging the sentiments.
There was an economy of style, if not quite a front porch intimacy, as she flitted between guitar and banjo (with some matter-of-fact thoughts on the racial segregation of hillbilly and black banjo music in the early 20th century), between acoustic blues and gothic bluegrass.
Her own songs varied in quality, the best being The Worst (a love song), the “Armageddon blues” of Myth and flamenco flourishes of Wildebeest. But after 90 minutes of dolour, there was a welcome injection of wry levity in her rendition of perky hillbilly number I’m Getting Ready To Go.