11 February 2017 (gig)
The recent surge in British enthusiasm for American country music has filled the O2 for the C2C festival over the past three years and shows no signs of abating. If American country music fans listen with a sense of patriotism and nostalgia for pick up trucks, and break-ups under vast mountain ranges, us Brits can enjoy donning cowboy boots and Stetsons for an even purer form of escapism.
The simpler existence of rural American life – and the heart on your sleeve emotion, proved irresistible to the packed crowd at the Shepherds Bush Hall on Saturday night who were literally singing their hearts out by the end.
American Young opened the set and it was a joy to be close up and extremely personal with the duo who have none of the pop polish that sucks the life out of the generic end of country. Comprising of Kristy Osmunson, born in Idaho where there are more cattle than people (apparently) and Jon Stone from Oregon (who has actually been a bull-fighter,) they’ve got impressive country credentials but more importantly they can really sing as well as play fiddle and guitar, not to mention woe-ing the audience with their relaxed banter.
Kristy soaring vocals are matched by Stone’s warmth and sensitivity in an enticing male, female blend along with driving fiddle and intricate guitar riffs. Whether belting out a ballad or drawing you in with a darker twist, this duo offer something considerably- more substantial than a foot stomping tune.
Stand out numbers from the set included ‘Love is War’, ‘Point of View’ and Stone’s feisty ‘Cheater, Cheater’ written about her ex boyfriend; ‘ Where d’you meet that no good white trash whore...’ At the other end of the spectrum is a haunting tale with a about her mother who was hit by a train; ‘Sometimes when we don’t want to listen, God sends a train’. The driving fiddle, guitar interludes are as enjoyable as the verses – there is clearly plenty more to come from this talented duo.
After setting the Yamaha stage alight as a support act at the C2C festival last year, Canadian born brothers, Brad and Curtis Rempel seem genuinely delighted to be headlining with their charming all male band, High Valley. Once we’d recovered from the neat hair and bulging pecks, the catchy tunes and unadulterated enthusiasm knocked about twenty years of us as they whipped the English crowd into one happy family.
Blue grass infused debut single ‘ Make you mine’ hit the country charts in the states by storm and if the Shepherd’s Bush crowd didn’t know it already, we did by the end – chanting the ‘whoah whoah etc’ chorus line they taught us until Brad, looking genuinely overwhelmed turned to his brother in confusion ‘What do we do?” There was a lot of love in the room.
Though some of the songs are a little too pop-slick, it proved impossible to resist the full frontal charm, particularly when the band line up at the front of the stage and really make music, banjo, mandolin, guitars and a whole lot of testosterone. A similar sort of magic to Mumford and Sons in their early days.
These intimate Country to Country events are being held throughout the year ahead of the return of Country To Country Festival 2017 at The O2 on 10-12 March. I recommend grabbling tickets for these smaller gigs if you want to experience the raw charm of this genre.