After an excellent opening set by Ben Glover of whom more soon, this was a performance of the purest country music; an acoustic set featuring Brandy Clark accompanied by Miles Aubrey, each with a guitar. No band, just songs, some good chat in between that left me requiring no further convincing Brandy Clark is a worthy heir to the great traditions of country music.
The Cadogan Hall seemed more suited to a string quartet than country but once Brandy got going we left London for small town, USA. Although she’s made only two albums, the most recent, Big Day in a Small Town, being released only earlier this year, the welcome she received made clear she was among friends. This was an audience who had taken Brandy to their hearts and the feeling appeared mutual.
Unsurprisingly, Brandy performed much of the new record, opening with Drinkin’ smokin’ cheatin, a well-chosen introduction to a major theme of the evening, revenge. Next up was Stripes, from Brandy’s first album 12 Stories, and then the title track of Big Day in a Small Town. The set proceeded at a good clip, not least because of an unusually early curfew so we got a lot of songs. There is no doubt that hurt rings through many; Daughter being a good example, “karma’s a bitch”. As Brandy warned in her intro, where she comes from the wronged take immediate action and I got the impression her examples of tyre slashing and bombing mailboxes were at the less extreme end.
This wasn’t the only emotion. The boredom of life was vividly illustrated in Get High, no further details required either for that or Take a Little Pill. Small town life can be a drudge. However, there is no bitterness; Brandy gets on with it because that’s what you do. This is seen further in Three Kids no Husband, where life is one long struggle but waitressing at the diner, “she’s quick with a smile and good with names”.
A word here for Miles Aubrey; accompanying in a solo acoustic set can’t be easy yet he was very much part of the performance interweaving chords with Brandy and adding harmonies at just the right points.
A mention also for Brandy’s acknowledgement of her country heritage; Hold my Hand was her Grammy performance with Dwight Yoakam and later in the set she sang a perfect rendition of George Strait’s The Chair. Brandy admitted her favourite song is Crazy, perhaps not surprising as Patsy Cline came to mind several times during the evening.
After several songs involving drink, Hungover was an apt final song; another heartbreaker with the wife finally walking out on her drunken husband. Rather than waste time leaving the stage, Brandy went straight into the two encores; Since You’ve Gone to Heaven and to finish on a more upbeat note, Pray to Jesus.
This show may have been in a big city far away but I felt very much part of small town American life as illustrated by the photos on the new album. Perhaps overused, but in this case spot-on, authentic is the way to describe Brandy Clark. This isn’t pop country glitz but the real deal in playing, voice and lyrics.