Canadian Rose Cousins has the voice of an angel, so the Unitarian Church is the perfect venue for her. Her vocal fills the room as does her personality. Between songs she holds conversation comfortably about herself and her music. She also asks where she can get the best Full English breakfast in Brighton before inviting the audience to ask questions in return. Someone wants to know who inspires her musically? The reply is, not surprisingly, Patty Griffin and Joni Mitchell “and many others”. The likeness is uncanny due to Rose’s own emotional honesty and vulnerability and soaring use of melody – using piano, then guitar, then ukulele to accompany her traditional songwriting. Borrowing from the best of America’s folk/country sirens, she brings a reverence to the Unitarian Church but also a homeliness. She talks about her choice not to have kids and laughs at the delighted shouts that acknowledge this announcement, then encourages a backing choir from the crowd and graciously thanks tonight’s headliner by admiring his “strong head of hair”. Playing many tracks from her 2017 Grammy-nominated album Natural Conclusion, you can see her in her own show on 1st April next year at The Greys. It will be worth the wait.
Increasingly a household name in the folk world, John Smith has swiftly followed up on last year’s exceptional Headlong with another superb collection of gems. This time, he has cast his net wide for inspiration and delved deep into the rich history of the genre – Hummingbird is made up largely (with some notable exceptions) of updated versions of folk standards. It also confirms Smith as a worthy descendant from the line of Renbourn, Thompson, Jansch, Drake et al.
“It’s like The Beatles all over again” quipped John Smith, shortly after a member of the audience in a tightly-packed venue fainted during his opening song (only after checking she had recovered). While maybe not quite reaching those heady heights, this was a performance that continued to establish Smith as one of the giants of the modern folk genre. This year’s Headlong has enjoyed richly deserved rapturous critical acclaim, and the combination of these emotional torch-songs and the intimate venue gave the impression that Smith was performing just for each of us in our own living room.