The final two shows of her sold out European mini-tour saw Ashley Monroe return to Bush Hall, where she had played a stunning headline show whilst last over here for 2016’s C2C festival.
Since then, Ashley has been very “productive” both personally and professionally, becoming a mother and releasing both her own (fourth) studio album “Sparrow” as well as joining forces once again with Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley for a third Pistol Annies album.
As you are probably aware Ashley has spoken about how her last visit here inspired her writing process for “Sparrow”. I caught her on the second of the two nights, and when she took to the stage she wasted no time in telling us how happy she was to be back. “I missed London the second I left” she said after her opening number, the sensual “Hands On You” from her new release, which left us in no doubt what a very special evening lay ahead. Ashley lived every word of every song, the intensity of her performance tangible and she often appeared totally lost in the moment throughout her 80 minute set.
Naturally it was songs from “Sparrow” that formed the backbone of the evening “ It’s still new to me” she told us, almost apologetically, but delving into her back catalogue and including several covers made for a really varied and well balanced set list. Mostly it was just Ashley’s stunning vocals and her acoustic guitar that worked their magic, but it was lovely to see her at the grand piano for a few numbers including a sublime version of the song she most wishes she’d written and had never played live before (which is also apparently her young son’s favourite) “Always On My Mind”. “ Last night I was wearing over the knee boots with heels, which made things a bit tricky, tonight I’m wearing my DM’s” she joked as she sat down to play. And also added to the mix was a duet with opener Sean McConnell (who was truly impressive on every level, by the way), together covering of another of Ashley’s favourite songs, The Cranberries “Linger“.
Like so many US artists who play here, Ashley mentioned how surprised she was that the audience knew the words to so many of her songs, but when we weren’t singing along there was thankfully a reverential hush….there’s been too many reports from recent concerts where this sadly hasn’t been the case, the minority spoiling the evening for the majority. On the one occasion last night when raised voices were evident Ashley handled things in a perfect and very professional way…..” Is everything alright over there ? Just want to check everyone’s ok?” she asked and immediately the offenders quietened down.
We were also told of the stories behind several of her own writes, such as remembering her Mother telling her she’d turn out just like her when she was a teenager, something she poo pooed at the time but of course has happened ( “ Mother’s Daughter”) and how a song about her new rescue dog Betty turned into a love song for her unborn child ( “ She Wakes Me Up”….she was convinced she was carrying a girl!!).
Fairly early on in the set she joked “ i don’t have many happy songs as you probably know” and a request for “ Weed Instead of Roses” was shouted out, but of course this ever popular one was saved for practically the end. Amazingly she was only 19 or 20 when she wrote it , “ my version of a love song” she said, and when Vince Gill heard it he insisted it be included on her album “Like A Rose” which he was co-producing. “ I’m glad he did” Ashley said, and of course so are all her fans!
It’s hard for me to pick particular highlights from this evening, but if my arm was twisted then the stripped back version of “ La Vie En Rose” ( along with a re- start having messed up the lyrics, proving Ashley is actually human!) which segued into “ Like A Rose” would be one, and to hear her play my favourite track from the new album, a song that never fails to tug at my heartstrings “ I’m Trying To” would be another.
Just a few days ago i was announced that Ashley would be releasing “ Sparrow Acoustic Sessions”, a five-track EP, on 15th February and this concert has only added to my anticipation …..yes, I loved the Dave Cobb produced studio album ( wow, those strings!!) but hearing the songs taken back to basics, where they began, was so beautiful that i can’t wait to “ Lay My Hands” on a copy ( excuse the pun!)
And let’s hope that this visit has further inspired Ashley …and that it won’t be another three years until her next tour, be it solo or with those other Annies!
Review written by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)