Having been very impressed by the video for ‘Soap & Denim’, the RGM team headed out to Camden to see Canadian songstress Colleen Brown, who is here touring in support of her new album Direction…
It’s a sticky night in a sticky venue. Beer-soaked back rooms like this are almost extinct in Soho, but thankfully Camden still has plenty of them left and, for me, their charms often outweigh their stench. Shamefully, there is just a scattering of people in the room but this doesn’t deter Brown from making the full effort; she has, after all, been performing and recording to critical acclaim for over ten years. Dressed incongruously in low heels and a dark pink trouser suit straight out of the late 1970s, she is armed with nothing more than a hulking, open-tuned, gold semi-acoustic guitar.
Opening with one of the standout tracks from Direction, ‘The Cost’, Brown uses the warm and brittle tremolo tones of the lone guitar only sparingly, which allows her disarming vocal to really come to the fore. With something of the raw tremor of Carole King and almost all the breadth and dexterity of Joni Mitchell, the retro wardrobe choice starts to make perfect sense and, just a couple of songs into the set, the scant crowd are won over. The register shifts catch you off guard - in a good way - but the precision is what truly impresses and marks Brown’s delivery out as something really special. It’s a voice that most singer-songwriters would happily exchange limbs for but thankfully Brown has the songs to do it justice too, along with the good sense to use it judiciously: serving the material rather than showing off.
Next up is the easy-going ‘Moncton Flight 179’ which segues very neatly into a cover of Lucinda Williams’ ‘Jackson’. She keeps things mellow with the brand new ‘Blue River’ before flooring us with ‘The Great Divide’, a hopeless break-up song which comes over like a long lost Emmylou Harris classic. It really is a thing of beauty and it’s perfectly suited to the pared-down format. Brown picks up the pace with the upbeat anthem to destruction that is ‘Tear It Down’ and then, all too soon, the performance is drawing to a close.
The singer’s quiet stage charisma ties the whole package together - her years as a Canadian troubadour have clearly served her very well and the set has been well-pitched, proving she has much more to offer besides the quirky videos. She is unassuming yet engaging. She is professional but not precious, as is evidenced by the closing song ‘Older, Younger’ which turns into a good-natured jam with various members of the other acts from the bill, with them all collapsing into giggles at the stumbled key-change but soldiering on regardless.
What a treat it was for us to catch our first glimpse of an artist like Colleen Brown, whose rich back catalogue is clearly worthy of further investigation and whose future looks equally promising.
Review by Rich Barnard.