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CMA Songwriters Series, O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London live review

A great showcase for four talented Country singer-songwriters.

Randy Houser
Credit: Stoney Creek Records

Since 2016, the Country Music Association (CMA) has been bringing the best songwriters in country music over to the UK to perform ahead of the C2C: Country to Country festival. As part of Country Music Week, the CMA is taking four writers – Randy Houser, Angaleena Presley, Michael Tyler and Eric Paslay – on tour around the UK for the very first time. The tour kicked off at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire last night and I was lucky enough to be in the audience of a packed house.

In the typical style of Nashville songwriters’ nights, the quartet performed in a round, with little snippets about their approach to songwriting and how the songs they were about to perform came about between each track. The four of them also had great chat together on stage and kept the crowd laughing throughout, particularly over a running joke after Angaleena’s guitar blew out a monitor and she had to borrow Randy’s for the first half of the show.

Randy started the show by performing Boots On. It was a great way to kick things off, with the driving rhythm highlighting his skills as a guitar player and his gravelly tones. Throughout his performance he showed great control of the power in his voice, almost yelling in places but always able to pull it back when he needed to. However, he was also able to deliver on the more emotional songs such as the romantic Our Hearts and brand new track One Too Many Times. I liked that he showcased different aspects of his personality as well, particularly on Beach To The Sand, which had the audience in stitches with its playful lyrics and vocal trickery. He closed his songs with Like A Cowboy, which was a great showcase for his incredible voice and held the audience completely spellbound.

Angaleena was the only one of the four who’d played in London before, and her set included lots of the songs she’d played during her performance at Nashville Meets London in August. Her sweet yet bluesy vocals and gentle melodies contrasted with sharp, biting lyrics on songs such as Bless My Heart and Unhappily Married, but she also showed her softer side on the uplifting Cheer Up Little Darling and Lemon Drop. I loved the small-town imagery in Better Off Red and the poignant storytelling of Wrangled too – she does such a good job of bringing the characters in her songs to life.

I didn’t know much about Michael Tyler before the show but he impressed me by showing a maturity beyond his years. He performed a mixture of songs that he’d written for other artists, such as Jason Aldean’s Girl Like You and Dierks Bentley’s Somewhere On A Beach, with his own tracks. I particularly liked the bittersweet If I Was Your Man and the nostalgia of Interstate, whose sparse melody highlighted the lovely quality and tone of his voice. Definitely one to keep an eye on in the future.

Eric Paslay is an artist I’ve been hoping to see live for a while, and he definitely didn’t disappoint. Similar to Michael, he mixed songs he’d written for other people in with those he’d recorded himself, and balanced uptempo tracks with ballads. Although his delivery was quite quick – almost like rapping in places – he was able to pack loads of images into each line and I really liked the soulful feel to his voice which balanced nicely with a rock edge. He also brought a great sense of fun to the show, encouraging the crowd to sing along on Barefoot Blue Jean Night and Friday Night. However, for me the standout moments were the slower songs, such as his yearning vocal on She Don’t Love You and the sparse yet moving Deep As It Is Wide.

Overall I really enjoyed the Songwriters Series event. It was a great showcase for Randy, Angaleena, Michael and Eric to show off their incredible songwriting ability and perform some of their biggest hits – as well as lesser-known songs – and share the stories behind them. The performance felt incredibly intimate, despite the size of the venue, and it was clear to see that the rapturous crowd response meant a huge amount to all four artists. If you get the chance to see them on tour then grab it with both hands!

Set list: 1. Boots On (Randy Houser) 2. Bless My Heart (Angaleena Presley) 3. Girl Like You (Michael Tyler) 4. Friday Night (Eric Paslay) 5. Our Hearts (Randy Houser) 6. Better Off Red (Angaleena Presley) 7. If I Was Your Man (Michael Tyler) 8. She Don’t Love You (Eric Paslay) 9. High Time (Randy Houser) 10. Unhappily Married (Angaleena Presley) 11. Hey Mama (Michael Tyler) 12. Barefoot Blue Jean Night (Eric Paslay) 13. Goodnight Kiss (Randy Houser) 14. Cheer Up Little Darling (Angaleena Presley) 15. First Time Again (Michael Tyler) 16. Deep As It Is Wide (Eric Paslay) 17. Beach To The Sand (Randy Houser) 18. Knocked Up (Angaleena Presley) 19. They Can’t See (Michael Tyler) 20. Song About A Girl (Eric Paslay) 21. One Too Many Times (Randy Houser) 22. Wrangled (Angaleena Presley) 23. Interstate (Michael Tyler) 24. Even If It Breaks Your Heart (Eric Paslay) 25. Like A Cowboy (Randy Houser) 26. Lemon Drop (Angaleena Presley) 27. Somewhere On A Beach (Michael Tyler) 28. High Class (Eric Paslay) Performance date: 3rd October 2017


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