David Olney / Petunia West End Cultural Centre, Winnipeg MB - March 13, 2003

Sad songs say so much. Delivered unto chilly Winnipeg by Via Rail earlier in the day, David Olney looked every bit the part of a travelling troubadour on stage. With thinning grey hair, blue jeans and a permanent scowl, Olney is a no-frills alt-country songwriter that looks like he could be your quiet uncle. "There's no such thing as a song that isn't personal," he said by way of an introduction to a song about birds. Possessing a vocal timbre somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and Guy Clark, Olney delivers spare, often dark lyrics that straddle the line between autobiography and fiction. His approach to "Deeper Well," a song that was covered by Emmylou Harris for the Wrecking Ball album, was aggressive, and like on many of his faster numbers, he wielded his acoustic guitar like a delta bluesman. At his best, listening to Olney is like opening a Southern gothic music box. Despite a crowd of only 40 on hand for the gig, Olney seemed genuinely pleased by the attentive audience. His lengthy set may have suffered from a lack of variation, but as one fan reassured Olney, "hey, we like all your stuff, man! That's why we're here tonight!" After a masterful performance of the ballad "If it Wasn't for the Wind," Olney encored with a Townes Van Zandt cover. It was a nice tip of that hat to Van Zandt, who once called Olney "one of the best songwriters I've ever heard." Opening the show was Quebec-born minstrel Petunia. A one-man novelty act dressed to the nines with a suit and top hat, Petunia warmed up with Jimmie Rogers-style yodels and a slightly derivative cover of "Big Rock Candy Mountain." Though a competent singer and guitarist, his delivery seemed insincere and too caught up with shtick to be at all original.