IT SEEMS strange bordering on mystifying that this latest Summer Sessions concert in Princes Street Gardens should reportedly have attracted noise complaints from attendees at the fireworks-tastic Edinburgh Military Tattoo, of all places. If there’s any analogue for the easy listening genre in today’s pop market, then Rag ‘n’ Bone Man is surely it, despite bearing the fierce vocal of a blues artist and an equally formidable collection of tattoos; yet skin ink is no longer the preserve of wild rockers, and Rory Graham is a soul man at heart.
Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh ***
“I’m gonna play a really miserable song now,” he said before Lay My Body Down, a track whose themes include feelings of worthlessness and troubled mental health. “They’re all fairly miserable, but this one in particular.” That may be so, but they and Graham’s delivery of them seem in perfect tune with the times.
Having already proven to be an unusual but worthwhile Edinburgh’s Hogmanay headliner nearly eight months ago, his songs proved rousing in the same venue once more, from the cathartic, redemptive The Fire – which featured his rapped vocals, a striking change of pace – and Grace, which fuses a sense of regret with a big, romantic heart.
The production levels for the show were pleasingly high, with horn players and additional vocals amid the full band setup, and the emphasis on elevating Graham’s voice as much as possible; the effect often sounded like a contemporary take on the 1980s blue-eyed soul scene, although his fans may not get the reference.
There was a sense of uplift with As You Are and the signature track Human, now with a richer live arrangement, and Graham’s determination to press on even though storm clouds appeared to be gathering neatly summed up the mood of his music.