A jam packed Country Music Week concluded for yours truly with my second visit of the week to Shepherd's Bush. Following a stunning show from Randy Houser on Monday at Bush Hall, where a great show seems to be guaranteed these days, we’ve moved down the road to the more palatial O2 Empire (capacity 2000) for tonight's proceedings. Needless to say with Kip Moore and Drake White in town I'm expecting things to rock and they sure did.
I entered the venue to be greeted by newcomer Jillian Jacqueline who was a very pleasant surprise. Backed by a three piece band Jacqueline impressed with a set of tunes from her upcoming debut album (a digital EP ‘Side A’ is out now) including 'Reasons' and 'Hate Me' a song so anthemic it already has its own T-Shirt. Jacqueline in a live environment comes over as a more traditional country singer-songwriter, admittedly one with added lyrical bite, than her videos might have you believe. The good news is the songs are strong and able to stand on their own merits, with or without the modern production choices utilised on her releases so far, which is always the truest test. This merging of the old and the new works really well and it’ll be interesting to see how things go for her, but a bright future seems assured. I'm now adding myself to the queue for a listen to her upcoming album, a queue that will have been greatly extended by tonight's set.
This brings us to Drake White back in the UK after an appearance at C2C earlier this year had garnered great reviews. From the first seconds of his intro music to the last note of a frankly astonishing 'With a Little Help from My Friends' Drake White owned the Empire. A soulful mix of country, rock and blues influences, delivered with the passion of a preacher spreading the word, Drake White & the Big Fire are the real deal. From the rhythmic power of Heartbeat' via his recent single 'Livin’ the Dream' and a really terrific ‘Makin’ Me Look Good Again’ Drake White had the crowd in the palm of his hand. When Drake White & The Big Fire return to the UK it’ll be as the headline act and those sold out signs will be up again.
For many artists following Drake White might be a problem but not for Kip Moore who is more than capable of holding his own and then some. Over the next 90 mins or so Kip and his 4 piece band eased into cruise control and then put the hammer down with a professionalism born of doing the hard miles and playing shows. Kip Moore's strength is in his blue-collar work ethic which comes over as totally natural and unforced. You know what you'll get from a Kip Moore show, guys in black tees with Moore favouring a reversed baseball cap, playing to guys who look like them and got off work at 5. Kip has plenty of good tunes and delivers them in a gravelly rasp (which he will smooth out on occasion) while twin guitarists add plenty of fiery lead guitar work. The fact this approach has crossed over so well in the UK is very welcome indeed and Kip was appreciative of this fact during his set. If your record collection includes Petty, Seger, Springsteen and Mellencamp then you owe it to yourself to get along to a Kip Moore show.
Opener 'Wild Ones' gets things off to a rousing start and the crowd are immediately along for the ride. The likes of 'Backseat' and 'Beer Money' are typical of his approach while 'The Bull' finds Kip exploring outside his comfort zone and had the place jumping as a result. The latest album was heavily featured with 'Bittersweet Company' another standout. Kip was happy to mix things up with Drake White joining the band to help out on a terrific version of the U2 classic 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For'. During the climax of the song the band members downed tools and joining Kip and Drake to each take a turn singing the title line. A simple but magic moment. In tribute to Tom Petty a glorious solo version of 'Learning to Fly' with Kip on acoustic guitar was another highlight. Tributes to Tom Petty have been a feature of Country Music Week and are so richly deserved as Petty was one of the greats. This more subdued approach was a feature of 'Guitar Man' which was extended to allow Kip to tell the story behind the song; this storyteller approach sits really well with Kip and demonstrates his range away from the hard-rockin' party tunes. If I have one minor quibble 'Dirt Road' was missing tonight and I love that tune.
I've been lucky enough to get along to three shows this Country Music Week and it’s been a blast, despite the travel, the day job and four hours sleep most nights. The quality of acts on show has been remarkable and I only wish I’d been able to get along to more shows, but we all have to sleep sometime. Country Music Week looks to have been a success on all levels so a repeat next year would be most welcome.