The Americana music scene in the UK continues to go from strength to strength, and last night the UK Americana Music Association took over four venues in Hackney, east London, for its annual showcase. With hosts including Baylen Leonard, the event highlighted the best Americana talent on both sides of the pond.
Opening the showcase at the Empire Bar was Elles Bailey, whose performance had a soulful, swampy vibe and touches of blues rock. She showed off the lovely tone in her voice during her short set, as well as some serious power on songs like Time’s A Healer, whilst showing off her energy moving around the stage in the slinky What’s The Matter With You. Her vocals soared and you could really feel the emotion coming through her voice throughout her performance. She’s also performing at this year’s Country to Country festival so I’d recommend checking her out there if you get the chance.
Kentucky native Tyler Childers was one of the most highly-anticipated artists of the showcase, and his session at the Moth Club was absolutely packed. Performing a solo acoustic set, he stood out with his gravelly vocals, stunning lyrics and deadpan humour on songs such as Purgatory, Snipe Hunting and the romantic yet melancholy Lady May. He also showed off some seriously impressive guitar-playing, particularly on I Swear (To God), Whitehouse Road and the driving Banded Clovis. He lived up to the hype and is definitely an artist to look out for in the future.
Who the artists are watching is often a good sign, and it seemed like every country artist in the UK was watching Robbie Cavanaugh. He delivered a mix of uptempo and slower songs during his set, ranging from the slow and dark Scars to the layered Ed Sheeran-esque Godsend with its changing tempos and impressive notes. I also loved his smooth, soaring vocals on Love Comes Quickly and the simple Roles Reversed.
Kashena Sampson was only playing her second UK show ever, but you wouldn’t have known it from her excellent stage presence. Her performance was filled with emotion, whether she was singing her bluesy and powerful single It’s A Long Way Back or the uptempo and soulful Greasy Spoon. However I was particularly impressed by the rawness and simplicity of She Shines as well as the yearning Come Back To Me. She’s a real talent and I can’t wait to hear more from her.
The big surprise of the night for me was Rev Sekou. Coming on stage at Oslo to a heavy opening riff, he encouraged the audience to clap along during the gospel-influenced, high-energy Resist and delivered a powerful rendition of Say My Name (which he mixed with This Little Light of Mine) after speaking very movingly about last summer’s events in Charlottesville. Sometimes showcases like this turn up something unexpected yet brilliant, and he was definitely that!
Meanwhile, The Americans combined classic rock and roll stylings with funky basslines and raspy vocals. Particular standout moments were the blues-influenced, powerful Try, the Beatles-esque guitars of Feel Like Mine and the organ-like sound of I’ll Be Yours, with its excellent storytelling. They definitely got the crowd up and dancing and added a real sense of fun to the evening.
Finally, the last act of the showcase were The Texas Gentlemen. They came on stage to a huge crowd reception and opened with Habbie Doobie, which set the template for a performance full of powerful vocals, excellent musicianship and some seriously impressive guitar and drum riffs. I particularly loved the driving, bluesy Bondurant Woman, their 1950s-influenced take on a classic country love song in Dream Along and the stomping honky-tonk of Pain. Their harmonies were also particularly impressive, adding a slightly futuristic touch to their eclectic sound. They finished the set with TX Jelly, with its heavy drumbeats and classic rock vibes, and it was clear they – and the audience – enjoyed every second of their time on stage as they jammed out together.
Overall the Americanafest showcase was a great way to highlight the sheer breadth of talent in the Americana scene both here and in the US, as well as the sheer variety that the genre encompasses. Particular standout artists for me were Tyler Childers, Kashena Sampson and The Texas Gentlemen, all of whom deserve to go on to great things. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on all the acts from last night’s showcase and am intrigued to see what they’ll go on to do next.
Performance date: 31st January 2018