It’s rare that an artist comes along that I love immediately, on every level, the first time I hear their music but Canadian born (now Austin resident) Whitney Rose is one. Made aware of her wonderful blend of nostalgic country/blues with the release of her recent EP “Southern Texas Suite”, I checked out her two previous albums and must admit I was slightly concerned heading to her first ever London show at this lovely small venue….would she meet my expectations or disappoint live, as sadly many artists seem to in this era of over-produced, auto-tuned recordings (not that I’m accusing her of that, I hasten to add…..!!) . I’m happy to report that I left the show knowing I’d just seen someone very special indeed who is truly flying the flag for female country music with her writing and performing.
It was the penultimate date of an international tour that started way back in February (a festival in France the following day would bring it to a close, and as Whitney said early on in her set it was an insane undertaking, she and the band could count on one hand the nights they’d had off. Having recently played in Scandinavia she also joked that she was happy to look out at faces that spoke her language and although there wasn’t a huge amount of chat between numbers Whitney was very amusing and on point when she did address the crowd ( ” I know it isn’t always this hot over here as our hotel doesn’t have air conditioning” she quipped half way through, for example). Very petite framed, fresh faced and with cheek bones to die for, she was dressed in a retro outfit of 70’s silk trousers and 80’s top (yep, I asked girlie questions during the interval!) with a straw cowboy hat topping her long, wild black hair and beaten up cowboy boots which no doubt had a few tales of their own to tell (I forgot to ask about their heritage! ). Playing her ’65 acoustic Gibson guitar with appropriate rose embellish strap (“Aggie, short for Agatha, but she hates it when I call her that!” she told me) she was accompanied by three superb musicians (the band have been together a fair while now and their understanding of each other shone through) but I must single out lead guitarist Will Meadows who’s solos were phenomenal and received well justified appreciation from the audience throughout the night. Vocally, Whitney was truly impressive and handled a variety of song styles with equal ease, whether portraying the humour in many of her lyrics, singing ballads with genuine emotion or unleashing surprising power exactly when needed.
The two sets were a mix of tracks from her back catalogue, classic covers and a couple of new songs to whet our appetite her forthcoming album ( recorded in Nashville earlier this year and due out in the Autumn, look out for a review on this site!). Of her own songs, many of my favourites made the list including the amusing, bluesy “ The Devil Borrowed My Boots Last Night”
and the uptempo, catchy “My Boots” (see a theme developing??!) which she said was about “being your own damn self all the damn time whatever damn what!” . Of the more poignant numbers she’s recorded I particularly liked hearing “Analogue” (“written by Brennen Leigh, one of the first people in Austin who warmed to me when I moved there and who is one of the strongest forces in saving country music…..if you don’t know of her, look her up but not now!!”) and “ Three Minute Love Affair” but if I had to pick a favourite from the set it would be the title track to her sophomore album, “ Heartbreaker of the Year” sung with appropriate attitude and sarcasm
Covers showed her varied musical influences, including Merle Haggard’s “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down”, Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” (which got a particularly huge cheer!) and a truly emotional rendition of “ You Don’t Own Me”, most famously recorded by Lesley Gore when she was just 17 years old!!
The encore began with an instrumental from the band which really highlighted their brilliance (Whitney thanked them on several occasions throughout the evening) before Whitney rejoined them on stage to “send you off for real with some more Merle Haggard, but i’m going to put my spin on it” and “Swinging Doors” brought the evening to a close.
We may have been 2017 in NW London but Whitney and her musicians transported me to time and place far removed from there, it was a magical night and I hope the reception they received means that although it was their first visit to the UK it definitely won’t be their last.
Review written by Lesley Hastings