Adelaide duo, Miss Ohio, opening for a cappella group Little Sylvie at The Jade on Sunday afternoon, struck a rich vein of sumptuous sound from the very first bar of their performance. Their tasteful song choices, and note perfect playing and singing, entranced the sell-out crowd and set the bar very high for the headliners to follow.
Guitarist Gage Stead plays beautifully and possesses a rich voice filled with appropriate nuance enhanced with occasional inflections that bring to mind the very best voices of American country music of the South.
Mae Napier-Traeger, on fiddle and vocals, matches Stead for virtuosity on her instrument whilst providing stunning harmonies that evoke a strong emotional response in the listener. The two performers obviously enjoy working together, smiling with admiration as each note the other slots into the aural tapestry blends in so seamlessly.
Their well-chosen songs indicated a connoisseur’s musical palette, ranging from covers like the their opening Appalachian lament, Piney Mountain; through the classic Redd Stewart & Pee Wee King ballad, The Tennessee Waltz, and mischievously on to Charley Jordan’s 1930 paean to venereal disease, Keep It Clean. They also did a fantastic version of Gillian Welch’s Elvis Presley Blues that almost outdid the original. A version of Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band’s Sure ‘Nuff ‘N Yes I Do, was a total left field surprise and proved to be as enjoyable as it was unexpected.
The set also included original material, and Stead’s I’m Fine, inspired by a friend’s devastating bushfire losses, more than held its own for quality in the company of the fine songs the duo chose to include in this show.
I did not want this too short performance to end! And whilst this is the only appearance the duo have booked in for the Fringe this year, I heartily recommend to everyone that any performance these two wonderful musicians may schedule around town in the future would most definitely be worth checking out.
Little Sylvie have been together for the best part of eight years, but recent circumstances have meant they had to adjust to being one member down for this show, and were shown to be in need of some more regular stage time in order to remove a bit of the rust that was evident in their performance.
It appeared that the vast majority of the packed house at The Jade were friends and family of the five women who constitute Little Sylvie, and their collective brood of children filled the seats in front of the stage. This meant that the performance was a little too heavily skewed to playing to kin rather than to those who attended purely to hear these talented vocalists deliver what are very interesting and ambitious arrangements of a range of modern songs.
The on-stage patter between songs therefore seemed a little too self-conscious, as if the group were not certain how to ‘pitch’ their performance most appropriately on the day.
The set did have some highlights – a version of Yazoo’s Only You was delightful, for instance, as was their short run through of Fleet Foxes’ White Winter Hymnal – but these bright spots were countered by a few songs that struggled to achieve full ignition.
Kate Bush’s hit Cloudbusting – a song about a boy who is witnessing his father being arrested for what was deemed to be immoral and obscene behaviour whilst researching human sexual behaviour – seemed a bit of an odd choice sung so jauntily – and to children – while the band’s rendition of Dolly Parton’s Jolene seemed stripped of its usual prevailing angsty energy.
An ambitious attempt at Malcolm McLaren’s Madam Butterfly (Un Bel Di Vedremo) was fascinating, but whilst the phenomenal operatic interludes were astonishingly clear and powerful, the rest of the arrangement could not match those moments for consistent impact.
The all-in singalong to Lead Belly’s Bring Me A Little Water, Sylvie showed that the audience were definitely onside and the crowd’s collective volume, gusto and tunefulness was impressive.
Two of the band’s original songs were also performed but these yielded mixed results. Freight Train did not come together well, but the final encore, Hillside Home, a song about their love for their home in the Adelaide Hills, was possibly the best song in the set.
By the end of the performance I was left with the feeling that a second scheduled show would probably have been a good idea. There is no argument that all of these talented singers have good voices and, perhaps with the cobwebs evident in this show dusted off, and with a slightly more focussed mindset in front of a less familiar audience, they could deliver the knockout performance that they missed out on this time around.
All things considered though, the afternoon proved to be a very pleasant one, and The Jade provided a reminder that it is one of the best Fringe venues in the city.
Miss Ohio – 4.5 stars.
Little Sylvie – 3 stars
Little Sylvie & Miss Ohio performed one afternoon show at the 2021 Adelaide Fringe, at The Jade on Sunday 21 February.