Joshua Lee Turner and Allison Young: first night review.

Although this blog is usually about fountain pens, today’s post is off-topic, to reflect on an excellent gig at London’s Bush Hall in Shepherds Bush, on Friday 15 July 2022. This was the first of a seven date UK tour and was also the first performance of this new duo to a live audience.

Joshua is well-known from YouTube as one half of the duo The Other Favorites, with Carson McKee. His videos have seen him collaborate with numerous other talented musicians, including Allison Young whose own work includes singing with the Post Modern Jukebox band.

I have raved in this blog before about The Other Favorites (An evening with The Other Favorites, and Another evening with The Other Favorites: this time it’s virtual). I continue to do so, to anyone who will listen. It is hard to think of any other musician as versatile as Josh, not only as a multi-instrumentalist but in crossing pretty much every musical genre, plus being a song-writer and having the IT skills to produce and promote his work.

My wife and I arrived unfashionably early at the venue. The doors were still shut and there was no-one about. A passing couple stopped to look at the poster of Joshua and Allison on the front door, and asked us if this was who we had come to see and how we had heard about the event. “What type of music is it, Americana?” This put me on the spot. How do you pigeon-hole Josh Turner who can not only turn his hand to, but excel at so many types of music from pop, rock, country, folk, bluegrass, singer-songwriter, gypsy-jazz, great American songbook standards, and more. I thought of Allison Young, whose videos of songs such as “Crazy” and “Fever” I had seen – and came out with a fumbled response of “Jazz”. “But that’s not a jazz guitar” said my enquirer, pointing to the Spanish guitar in the poster. “No, but he can play any stringed instrument you put in front of him”, I gushed. I hope that they came back and bought tickets.

As show time drew closer, a decent sized queue built up behind us. Many in the know had gone to the bar next door before the show. We chatted to another couple: Dave had been watching The Other Favorites on Youtube for a considerable time but not made it to a live show before.

With no allocated seating, we were able to pick the front row. It was our first concert since lockdown restrictions were lifted and good to be able to enjoy live music again.

Josh and Allison took to the stage, each holding a guitar. They launched into “Shadows on the Wall”, also the opening song on their recent EP entitled “May 9-12” comprising six tracks written between those dates. Josh told the audience that they had realised as the tour approached, that they did not have many songs, – due in part to not quite believing that the tour would happen. They had recorded new material, not that we would have known they were new, as the songs from the EP blended right in with the rest of the set, as if they had been performing them for years.

What took place was an evening of pure joy and a masterclass in musicianship. The two performers remained on stage together throughout, although a few of the numbers were solo. There were some teething problems with Allison’s mic initially which crackled and popped. Josh paused in playing to give the mic a deft tap, which cured the problem temporarily until it was soon replaced by the sound engineer. Allison appeared not in the least fazed by the episode, which endeared them both to us all the more.

Josh’s finger-style guitar playing always amazes me, in his musicality and confident mastery of the fingerboard – be it on an acoustic or his starburst Fender Telecaster seen in many videos, or his ukulele, all of which featured in the show. There is never a beat missed or note out of place as he uses these instruments to their full potential. (I am thinking here of my own baritone ukulele, and a new mandolin, which would love to be played properly).

Allison’s voice is beautiful and has a timeless warmth and quality which was showcased perfectly on such classics as Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust”, or Diana Krall’s “Autumn in New York” as well as “Fever” and “Crazy”. She cites Patsy Cline as a major influence. Her natural charm, expressive movements and the twinkle in her eyes in performing all of these, brought them to life. She also sang and played a few of her own songs not yet recorded, which can be a test for an audience but were well received.

Josh played some songs from his back catalogue. “Nineteen and Aimless” was a song he had written about being nineteen and aimless. He honoured his 93 year old grandmother, in playing an instrumental that he had arranged at her request back when she was only 91, an impressive and foot-tapping rendition of “St Louis Blues” and was the envy of all the wannabe guitarists in the room. But it was his song “Cross-eyed Love” with its rousing speeded up, drop-tuned, gallop at the end, which brought the house down.

Josh and Allison played a guitar instrumental duet on La Valse d’Amelie, Yann Tierson’s “Amelie’s Waltz” from the 2001 French language film Amelie. Josh told us that both he and Allison were fans of the film. This slow piece was one of my wife’s highlights of the night.

They played over 20 songs in all. After the encore as the lights came up, two ladies sitting behind us asked how we had heard of the event. I explained that I had seen it online (and jumped on the tickets). They asked me if I played an instrument. I said that I played guitar, or used to think I could! Watching Josh is humbling but I admire these great musicians with so much ability and potential, following their dream.

I looked up Hoagy Carmichael afterwards. On Wikipedia is says that he “was among the first singer-songwriters in the age of mass media to utilise new communication technologies such as television, electronic microphones and sound recording.” Sound like anyone? To this Josh and Allison have harnessed Youtube and Instagram. As Josh put it, social media is not all a hell-hole. Good things come out of too, such as how he and Allison came to “follow” each other, to meet, record videos and the EP and now put together this tour. Josh had made good use of the lockdown to write and record an album and perform some livestream gigs all from his New York apartment. Allison had also been writing.

As I left the theatre, into the sultry warm London night, I had a spring in my step and was still grinning at the joy of the evening and the knowledge that such talent exists in the world.

Edit: 23 July 2022. Below is the setlist (compiled from a combination of my list made during the show, a photo of the list on the stage floor, plus the website Setlist FM.

  1. Shadows on the wall;
  2. Do I ever cross your mind (Dolly Parton);
  3. Lucy;
  4. Stardust;
  5. Plastic Jesus;
  6. Secondhand store;
  7. Fever; (Peggy Lee)
  8. Nineteen & Aimless;
  9. St Louis Blues (instrumental);
  10. Aquellos Ojos Verdes; (Spanish song)
  11. Samba Ukulele;
  12. Winter’s come and gone;
  13. La Valse d’Amelie; (Theme from the film “Amelie”)
  14. Autumn in New York; (Diana Krall)
  15. Til the stars turn cold;
  16. Where in time;
  17. Cross-eyed love;
  18. I fall to pieces; (Patsy Cline)
  19. Tiny Vases;
  20. Crazy; (Patsy Cline)
  21. We’ll meet again; Vera Lynn
  22. Hollow Wood.

Another evening with The Other Favorites (this time it’s virtual).

On 23rd May 2020, I joined a live stream concert given by The Other Favorites, the duo Carson McKee and Josh Turner. This was their third such venture and was streamed from Josh’s apartment in Brooklyn, New York, conveniently timed at 2.00pm eastern time, being 7.00pm for us watching in the UK.

The Other Favorites: Carson McKee and Josh Turner.

This was available to anyone who signed up via Crowdcast with a voluntary contribution, who then received a link to join the stream.

Some readers may recall that I was highly impressed with The Other Favorites, having found them on YouTube last year. I then got to see them at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush last August and wrote a review here.

I saw Josh Turner in London again in October in Graceland Live at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, with a band and The South African Cultural Choir UK. The first half was given to performances of selected Paul Simon songs up to the 1986 Graceland album interspersed with lively pieces from the choir. In the second half, the company performed the entire Graceland album with Josh on guitars and vocals. It was truly special to hear this classic album brought to life so vividly, 33 years after its release.

The Other Favorites were to have been touring again this year but this was not possible in view of the pandemic. Performing a livestream session from home enables musicians to generate some revenue during these times and also provides welcome “live” entertainment for fans also in lockdown.

I continue to be amazed by this duo. From a rainy afternoon in Brooklyn, with the sound of an occasional car horn from the street below, they gave a very professional performance. Carson McKee played acoustic guitar and seemed the more relaxed of the pair, giving such a steady rhythm guitar and warm vocal performance that it looked effortless. Josh meanwhile began on his Martin acoustic for the first five songs before switching to a Fender Telecaster for the next five and then a banjo.

Josh now on banjo.

They played for an hour with a good mix of original material and covers, then gave a Q&A session for another half hour, answering questions from the chat messages. The original pieces spanned their ten years of playing and writing together. “Flawed recording” was one of their earlier songs, whilst “Nineteen and Aimless” was the opening track from Josh’s 2019 album As Good A Place As Any.

Once again, their performance demonstrated their genre-hopping versatility which takes in singer- songwriter styles such as James Taylor, jazz, bluegrass and Americana murder ballads and, with equal gusto, Abba’s Mama Mia. Josh’s guitar and banjo work on these is sublime, but never over-the-top. Listening to these young men, it is not unreasonable to compare their talents to a young Paul Simon or James Taylor.

The songs that they played are listed below (not including the rendition of Happy Birthday for Josh’s mother), to which I have added links to some of the YouTube videos. I am not sure if I have the title correct for number 7 but it was one of the standout pieces of the night and is one to watch out for.

Setlist:

  1. Angelina (original)
  2. Sixteen tons (Tennessee Ernie Ford)
  3. Little Sadie (Crooked Still)
  4. The Ballad of John McCrae (original)
  5. Table for One (original)
  6. Nineteen and aimless (original)
  7. I feel a certain change comin’ round (original)
  8. Hey Good Lookin’ (Hank Williams)
  9. Low Country (original)
  10. Moonlight in Vermont (Frank Sinatra)
  11. Nine Pound Hammer (Merle Travis)
  12. Mama Mia (Abba)
  13. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning (Richard Thompson)
  14. Flawed recording (original)
  15. Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash).

Edit. 5 January 2022. I now know that song number seven is called Colorado Cowboy.

What we learned in the Q&A.

Asked whether they ever heard from artists they covered, they mentioned Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes. They had also performed with the Backstreet Boys. However, Josh had never met Paul Simon or interacted with him in any way, which was surprising given Josh’s involvement in the Graceland show last year as well as the Simon & Garfunkel story, theatre show.

Asked when they had started in music full time, Josh had worked in retail for three or four years after college, building up some revenue from Youtube and Patreon but it was not until it became feasible for him to tour repeatedly that he gave up his day job, in late 2018. For Carson, it was as recently as late 2019 that he stopped work in an Apple Store.

Josh clearly is keen on the technical aspects of recording and streaming to the web. Asked about their set-up for this show, Josh turned the camera on some of their gear, showing the mics all going into a Zoom L-8 mixing/recording board (given by Zoom after they had appeared in an advertisement) but I then got lost as he explained the signal path through the compressor and computer software, for the audio and video.

As for their dream venues to perform in, Carson named the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and the Troubadour in LA, as the most iconic for him, to which Josh added Clowes Memorial Hall in Indianapolis, Indiana, being at his old alma mater.

Josh had studied music theory at high school and at college. We did not see his classical guitar work this evening (or the mandolin, lute, keyboards or percussion instruments that he sometimes plays in his videos). Asked about artists he admired, he listed Glen Campbell and Chet Atkins. However, in answer to a suggestion about appearing with mandolinist Chris Thile on his show Live From Here, Josh dismissed this as being way too intimidating as Chris Thile and his approach to music “is on such another level.” So even our heroes have heroes.

The Other Favorites do plan to host another livestream towards the end of June. They also mentioned a planned comedy project in the pipeline, where we would get to see Carson exercise his acting chops. Their long history of playing together has produced a great body of work on YouTube and they keep getting better and better. Just as I finished re-watching the livestream, YouTube brought up a song that they had recorded, singing in Japanese!