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Transatlantic Sessions, Royal Festival Hall, London live review

The Secret Sisters, Shawn Camp and Julie Fowlis were among the line-up.

The Secret Sisters
Credit: New West Records

Bringing together the best musicians from Nashville, Ireland and Scotland, the Transatlantic Sessions have grown in popularity since they began nine years ago. After eight sell-out appearances, last night they returned to the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall for a night of traditional Celtic and Americana music.

One of the most highly anticipated acts of the evening were Alabama-born duo The Secret Sisters. They performed three tracks from their Grammy-nominated album You Don’t Own Me Anymore, including He’s Fine, which contrasted an upbeat melody with bittersweet lyrics about a lost relationship, the dark and atmospheric murder ballad Mississippi and the old school jazz-influenced Tennessee River Runs Low. All three songs showed off their gorgeous harmonies and strength as lyricists, and I loved the balance of sweetness and bite in their vocals. They also seemed to really love playing with the band, which added an extra layer of depth to their songs, and both girls frequently popped up to add their harmonies throughout the show.

Other artists performing included Earls of Leicester member Shawn Camp, who impressed with his guitar-playing and vocal tone on songs such as Would You Go With Me and Sis Draper, and with his subdued yet emotional rendition of The Grandpa That I Know. Suzy Bogguss was another highlight; her vocal sounded effortless as she switched between the uptempo honky-tonk vibes of Let’s Chase Each Other Round the Room and the slow ballad Someday Soon.

I particularly loved Julie Fowlis’ gorgeous interpretations of folk songs such as the lilting, delicate Camarinas – she promised it would ‘transport you’ and it certainly did that – and the brooding yet gentle Go Your Way, which had the audience completely spellbound. Meanwhile, Dublin’s Daoiri Farrell showcased his rich tone, control and big notes on songs like Bogie’s Bonnie Belle, The Leaky Drum and The Creggan White Hare.

The house band weren’t too shabby either. Led by violinist Aly Bain and dobro player Jerry Douglas, they showcased their impressive musicianship on songs such as Sleep Sound in the Morning, The Llamas’ Dance, The Glass of Beer and Tribute to Larry Reynolds. I also loved that each member got a chance to show off their skills, with Bain, Douglas, Phil Cunningham (who made the slow and melodic The Eternal Friendship sound as smooth as a glass of finest whiskey) and guitarist John Doyle, who encouraged the audience to join in on sea shanty Across the Western Ocean.

Overall I loved the Transatlantic Sessions. It was a fantastic showcase for traditional music but with contemporary touches, and showed that the power of a great song is truly universal. All the musicians looked like they were having the time of their lives performing together and the audience were completely swept up in it, with plenty of clapping along and feet tapping in sychnronisation. If you’re a fan of folk music then I highly recommend checking them out next time they’re in a town near you.

Set list: 1. Instrumental (house band) 2. Would You Go With Me (Shawn Camp) 3. The Grandpa That I Know (Shawn Camp) 4. He’s Fine (Secret Sisters) 5. Shetland Set (house band) 6. Bogie’s Bonnie Belle (Daoiri Farrell) 7. Camarinas (Julie Fowlis) 8. The Llamas’ Dance (house band) 9. Let’s Chase Each Other Round The Room (Suzy Bogguss) 10. Someday Soon (Suzy Bogguss) 11. Instrumental (house band) 12. Instrumental (Jerry Douglas and house band) 13. The Leaky Drum (Daoiri Farrell) 14. The Creggan White Hare (Daoiri Farrell) 15. Go Your Way (Julie Fowlis) 16. Domnhall Binn (Julie Fowlis) 17. Sis Draper (Shawn Camp) 18. Mississippi (Secret Sisters) 19. The Eternal Friendship (Phil Cunningham and house band) 20. Across The Western Ocean (John Doyle and house band) 21. The Glass of Beer / Tribute to Larry Reynolds (house band) 22. Tennessee River Runs Low (Secret Sisters) Performance date: 5th February 2018

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