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Live Review: Jimmy Watts, Zena Mohamad

11 October 2016 | 12:40 pm | Rhys Anderson

"These artists' truths are not concealed in parables, fables and metaphors, but in the simple and powerful shapes of everyday life."

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Jimmy Watts could charge a lot for a ticket, but he gave his show for free.

Charming and tangled, the broad-grinning bluesman asked his support to switch slots, so that he would play the first set, her the second and himself the third. That relaxed, anything-goes vibe set the tone for the evening and it is perhaps one of the best reflections of Watts as an artist. Musically, he often draws lazy comparisons to Tom Waits for his growling vocal delivery, and to Ash Grunwald or Xavier Rudd as he is another Australian blues musician with dreads. His blues style, however, is older than these folkier contemporaries and his growl more Howlin' Wolf than Waits. After a few fast-tapping wailing numbers, he brandishes a lap steel. "This is a bit of two-by-four aluminium I borrowed from a construction yard with no plan to ever return it," Watts begins. "It contours my beer belly perfectly and some days it even sounds like a guitar. Hopefully today is that kind of day." As soon as the strings are plucked a full, rich, bassy guitar sound rings out, quickly squashed by tremolo fingers and a glass slide.

As the first set concludes, Watts introduces Zena Mohamad as a girl "who's going to blow your mind" and somehow this doesn't oversell the 18-year-old's acoustic performance. A new song sucks the air out of the room with its hauntingly red-raw honesty.

While they both have very different approaches, Watts and Mohamad both arrive at the same inconvenient truth: that complicated life exists, always, even within the mundane of day-to-day. They sing about life from different stages as artists, but there is no mistaking it; these artists' truths are not concealed in parables, fables and metaphors, but in the simple and powerful shapes of everyday life. While Watts may dress his truth in boxcar clothes — evoking The Charleston or a similar old-world dance with his incredible, fast blues licks and devastating growl — young Mohamad's truth is presented differently; it lets itself in as quiet as a ghost. Her truth waits as patiently as anyone who has ever sat in a doctor's waiting room and, while Mohamad yells and whimpers her trouble, her truth sits deathly still, letting out the occasional discernible sniff or dusty cough, until it turns to you and you recognise its every symptom as your own.

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