Pierce Pettis has a nice line about how it feels for a songwriter to hear his songs being covered by someone famous. Prefacing You Move Me, which Garth Brooks took into millions of cars, Pettis remarked that hearing the country star singing words he’d written was like having the furniture suddenly start talking.
A sometime in-house writer at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound studio in his native Alabama and a staff writer for Polygram in the 1990s, Pettis, who has also written songs for Joan Baez and Art Garfunkel, is yet another example of the rich seam of singer-songwriters working below the popular acclaim radar in America. His songs are literate, lovingly crafted snapshots, bringing love affairs, teenage exploits and small-town parades to vivid, often witty life.
With a voice reminiscent at times of Bruces Cockburn and Springfield, and maybe No Other-era Gene Clark, he communicates with his audience on a very personal, ordinary Joe level but with guitar-picking ability and harmonica creativity way beyond the workaday. A superb cover of Jesse Winchester’s deeply evocative, bluesy Talk Memphis and an appropriately metered and phrased guitar instrumental for his train engineer grandpa, both introduced with mirthful, self-effacing preambles, complemented a selection of original songs deserving much wider attention.
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Compared to Pettis’s unassuming approach, Belfast troubadour Brian Houston came on like a force of nature with an impressively schooled voice if rather prone to bombast. Amusing observations on growing up in Belfast and watching his daughter doing likewise gave way to gospel favourites, with Pettis and opening act Yvonne Lyon, with husband David on accordion, joining a spontaneous extended singalong.
Star rating: *** Pierce Pettis/Brian Houston, City Halls, Glasgow