London is my usual stomping ground for gigs so the announcement of Country Music Week was most welcome. From October 2nd – 8th some of the best and the brightest artists of the genre are popping up all over town in various musical configurations be it with full bands, acoustic sets or the much loved, and quintessentially Nashville, songwriters circle, CMW had all the bases covered.
Overnight here in the UK the harrowing news from Las Vegas was filtering through that many, many fellow fans of the genre had experienced an event that would have life changing consequences for the concert goers, their families and friends. With this in mind the journey to Bush Hall for the opening show of Country Music Week was not without some trepidation but I’m pleased to report the artists at the Broken Bow Records showcase nailed it, as they showed a fitting level of respect, and then they rocked the place.
The difficult task of opening proceedings fell to Jordan Walker and Johnny McGuire, collectively known as Walker McGuire, who pitched it just right as opener ‘Mysteries of the World’ showcased their infectious humour and spot-on vocal harmonies. The blue-collar ‘American Dream’ seemed perfect as a tribute for the LV fallen while their take on the Luke Combs hit, a Jordan Walker co-write, ‘When it Rains it Pours’ went down well with an appreciative crowd. The duo concluded their set with ‘Til Tomorrow’ which has proved to be a breakout hit with over 18 million streams on Spotify. If their first UK show was anything to go by Walker McGuire will win many more friends during their upcoming Country Music Week shows.
Next up was Lindsay Ell who broke into ‘Wildfire’ from her recent Kristian Bush (Sugarland / Billy Pilgrim) produced album ‘The Project’ and it was immediately obvious that although Lindsay considers herself a country artist, dig a little deeper and you’ll find a dash of funk and some serious blues. Performing solo on a white electric guitar — with a paintjob borrowed from Eddie Van Halen —and a delay loop to flesh out the sound Lindsay rocks with a bluesy swagger that brings Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix to the table. Throw in some cool songs: a relaxed stage presence, a strong voice and you’ve a complete package. ‘Waiting on you’ proved another winner before she delved into her favourite album, John Mayer’s Continuum, an album which she has covered/recorded in its entirety (and teased that she might even release it). Lindsay proved an unexpected highlight this evening and I’m off to checkout her other work. If your taste is limited to straight-ahead, more traditional, country sounds then Lindsay Ell might leave you a little baffled, especially in a live setting, but if you’ve an open mind this is very cool indeed.
Interest was high for the first ever UK show by tonight’s headliner Randy Houser. Houser has come a long way from his birthplace in Lake, Mississippi (population 400) or “about the same number as in Bush Hall tonight” he quipped. Would that voice and those songs translate to a UK audience…would they ever…Houser was frankly phenomenal and this will take some beating as my gig of the year.
The bearded Houser dressed in black t-shirt, cap and a black/white neckerchief stated that he was unsure about how to start his set as he took to the stage. Then he heard news of the death of Tom Petty which made his decision with literally five minutes to go. An impromptu and rousing ‘I Won’t Back Down’ followed which was embraced by a shocked audience. Two big hits in ‘We Went’ and ‘How Country Feels’ would follow in quick succession and it became apparent early that the voice is even bigger live. Houser is in possession of one of the, if not the, best voice out there.
Houser seemed to be genuinely surprised and appreciative of the reception this evening and the support he received from the crowd. A new song ‘High Time’ would prove to be one of the high points (sorry) of the evening as Houser broke a string (another string incident later in the set would leave Houser bemused but the adrenalin was definitely flowing). His manager stepped on stage with a selection of replacement strings while the band got to stretch out and impressively fill time. Cue quips from Houser about touring without a crew and how ‘High Time’ was turning into the longest song ever. It would be remiss of me not to mention the band at this point as Houser was operating in a trio this evening, actually make that a Power Trio, as Keys man John Henry and powerhouse drummer Kevin Murphy were superb throughout.
More hits followed as Houser delved back into his career for ‘Boots On’ and ‘Goodnight Kiss’ and found room for a run through of ‘Tulsa Time’ to honour another recently departed country great in Don Williams. Late in the set Houser strapped on an electric guitar and displayed fine slide prowess on an old Elmore James tune. The evening concluded with an exceptional take on ‘Like a Cowboy’ with that stunning voice again on display while ‘Running Outta Moonlight’ proved an excellent choice for an encore with plenty of audience participation.
Randy Houser stole the show this evening with a set full of great music delivered with that stunning voice and I urge you to catch him on this short UK visit if you can. Country Music Week is already a success in my eyes but with both Walker McGuire and Lindsay Ell playing more shows this week it’d be a crime to miss them.
Full details of Country Music Week can be found here