- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
For the last hour or so we’ve been completely under her spell but there’s laughter when Lucy Rose confesses, “If you didn’t know already, my new record is really, really depressing”. The record in question, No Words Left, is certainly the Surrey born singer-songwriters most reflective album but depressing? No, there’s something far more special going on here.
Before Rose takes to the stage it’s time for Oklahoma born, Choctaw-American songwriter Samantha Crain. The stage is set for tonight’s headliner yet Crain will be keeping us entertained using nothing more than her voice and an acoustic guitar.
The second she starts playing City Varieties is transformed into an intimate folk club. Every ear in the venue listens attentively as she sings, “holding ‘til the edge of night”. Like all great folk artists, Crain’s songs are drawn from conversations, anecdotes, and experience. You can picture them being written in the small hours, a Richard Thompson album playing quietly in the background.
Crain’s gently picked folk melodies allow the songs to breathe and her voice to soar. A pining, late-night sound, made all the more immersive by Crain’s innate knack for storytelling. Inspiration comes from everywhere; sentimentally going through a box of old movie stubs, watching bizarre UK ‘dating’ show Naked Attraction while jetlagged or a stranger telling Crain her entire life story.
The songs might be achingly melancholic but Crain is brilliantly funny in-between. “Another break-up song” she laughs “to keep the mood going”. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a sad song but the mood, for me, is quietly captivating. Judging by the audience’s response I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
During tonight’s set, Lucy Rose asks for the spotlight to be turned off and for the whole band to be lit equally, “these guys are the talent, not me”. Violin, viola, and cello sensitively weave in and out of the songs. Bass, guitar, and percussion carefully producing subtle, well-placed, grooves.
There are a number of musicians on stage with Rose yet nothing is thrown in haphazardly, nothing overpowers or detracts. Everything, from the smooth and understated bass to the strings that swell unexpectedly. Each song meticulously and beautifully arranged.
Rose herself moves between piano and guitar, whatever the song requires. The songs themselves are exceptional, with cuts from No Words Left oozing melancholy and beauty in equal measure.
The piano-led ‘Solo(w)’ eases us into the performance, a gorgeous and deeply atmospheric song that manages to recall the great singer-songwriters of the 60’s and 70’s. There’s a timeless, classic quality to the songwriting and Rose’s performance.
The lonely pining of ‘Nobody Comes Round Here’ leads into the smooth, soulful ‘Second Chance’. Subtle shifts in the instrumentation provide moments of gentle, sun-dappled euphoria; ‘Is This Called Home’ unexpectedly blooming as the music builds and Rose sings, “Let me hold your hand”.
Rose’s voice is quietly mesmerising throughout, the sparse ‘Treat Me Like a Woman’ providing one of the nights most powerful moments. The strings create an almost Nick Drake-esque atmosphere, a cocoon of sound both comforting and melancholic.
The majority of the set is made up of newer material but ‘Shiver’ from Rose’s debut LP, 2012’s Like I Used To, gets a well-deserved outing. A sweet, undeniably lovely song, ‘Shiver’ also gives us a chance to hear how Rose’s songwriting has evolved over the years.
Samantha Crain joins Rose and her band on stage for tonight’s final offering, ‘Song After Song’. Rose confiding in us one last time as she sings, “song after song, after song, all about me and my misery”. Suffice to say, I’ve been very happy to listen to Lucy Rose sing about her various trials and tribulations tonight. An emotional, graceful and very special performance.
Photo by Will Morris