As well as playing in Kathleen’s backing band, Jim Bryson is a performer in his own right with three albums to his name and this isn’t his first visit to Birmingham. He’s an affable chap, not afraid to goof around between (and during) songs; chatting with the audience, making the odd mistake and throwing shakers to drummer Joel Anderson, who he brings on mid-set.
‘Somewhere Else’ and ‘Sleeping In Toronto’ were the stand-out tracks from a well-above-average support set. For the final track the rest of the Kathleen Edwards support band were brought on stage and the full-blooded sound gave a tantalising hint of what was to come.
I was only introduced to Kathleen Edwards‘ music a few months ago and her most recent album has become a firm favourite on my stereo. Describing her to people can be tricky though – partly because so many musical crimes have been committed under the banner of ‘country-rock’ but also because quality songwriting such as hers can have a slow-burn appeal.
What came through very well in this live setting was the playfulness in the songs. ‘I Make The Dough…’ is a quirky enough song but hearing the story behind the video and her explanation of ice-hockey goon/enforcer Marty McSorley’s influence and involvement was brilliant. She teased Bryson for slipping up and even laughed off an impromptu dash from that stage.
The first highlight of the evening (and there were a few) came a few songs in with ‘Oil Man’s War’, a portrait of a draft-dodger’s escape with his fiancee, leant power by her concentration on the personal aspects of the story. There was no joking about here – just an earnest and strongly observed tale of a couple doing what they had to to stay together.
I’m not generally bothered about ‘authenticity’ in my music but on the bitter ‘Asking For Flowers’ when she leaned into the mic, screwed her eyes closed and sang ‘every time I poured my heart out’ I got a tingle down my spine that no amount of Joe Leans or Pigeon Detectives could achieve.
All the while Kathleen was flitting between lightness and gritty honesty the band kept up a solid backing. Special mention must go to Kathleen’s husband and guitarist Colin Cripps – a gentle giant of a man who, when not tearing up a guitar onstage, looks much more likely to be hand-building timber lodges in the Rockies.
She apologised for struggling with a cold and not being able to sing as well as she’d have liked. In truth, her voice only faltered slightly on the quieter songs – in particular on the higher notes of the unreleased ‘I Can’t Give You Up’. The rest of the time any flaws were either unapparent or I mistook them for emotional catches.
The setlist, which comprised a gutsy ‘The Cheapest Key’, a corruscating ‘Oh Canada’ and a swinging and stomping ‘Back To Me’ was brought home with an encore which included a beautiful cover of ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’. Why Kathleen doesn’t yet perform in bigger settings is beyond me but I’m glad to have caught the real deal in such a small setting – her time is surely coming.
Review – Chris Unitt
Photos – Ursula Roxy Aitchison