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CMA Songwriters Series, Laeiszhalle, Hamburg live review

The songwriters’ round showcase is currently touring Europe.

Charlie Worsham
Credit: Warner Music

One of the most distinct aspect of country music is the songwriters’ round. Popularised by the likes of the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, these shows feature songwriters performing their sounds in the round in small, intimate settings. In recent years the Country Music Association has been popularising the concept outside the US, and last night the show arrived in Hamburg with Charlie Worsham, Drake White, Ashley Campbell and Chris DeStefano.

Worsham took on the role of emcee for the evening, introducing the other performers and encouraging the crowd to sing along and share requests. He opened the round with Old Times Sake from his current album Beginning Of Things, a twangy yet gentle number which showed off the richness in his voice as well as his skill at turning a phrase. This set the template for the rest of his choices, which included new songs For The Love and – both of which were full of warmth, passion and conviction and I can see them becoming big hits for him. However there was also room for fan favourites like the playful Lawn Chair Don’t Care and the soulful, emotional Mississippi In July, as well as plenty of chances for him to wow the crowd with his guitar-playing skills, particularly on Southern By The Grace Of God which saw his fingers flying over the instrument with incredible skill and dexterity.

Having only seen Drake White perform with his full band The Big Fire before, I was intrigued to see what he’d do with an acoustic performance. Luckily he didn’t disappoint. From the opening notes of I Need Real, his bluesy, powerful voice rang out through the room – even when he stepped away from the microphone – and he delivered an incredibly animated performance throughout, frequently stomping his feet and jerking his head. It gave songs like Live Some, All Would Be Right With The World (which featured a spectacular a capella finale) and Livin’ The Dream a great energy and produced a really enjoyable, fun performance. He also gave us a glimpse into his songwriting process, coming up with freestyle lyrics at a seriously impressive speed! Meanwhile, his stripped-back rendition of Makin’ Me Look Good Again highlighted the soulful aspects of his sound as well as giving him the opportunity to belt out some huge notes. He finished his section with a song he and Chris wrote together, It Takes Time, which brought out his rockier side as well as some serious gospel vibes on his soaring vocal runs.

Despite being the only female in the line-up, Ashley Campbell more than held her own with the boys. Her six songs ran the gamut from the sassy Better Boyfriend to the yearning Wish I Wanted To, and showed how versatile she is as an artist. We also got some glimpses of next recor with two new songs – Moonlight, a wistful lullaby-like love song with added whistling, and the touching Hey There Lonely Guy which highlighted her sweet vocal tones. She also brought out her banjo for the instrumental Jackson’s Music Shop, inspired by her godfather, and I loved that she chose to do something different which showed great songwriting is as much about music as it is about lyrics.

For me the biggest revelation of the night was Chris DeStefano. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s behind some of the biggest country hits of the last few years. Whilst he brought a poppy, soulful vibe to songs such as Good Girl (which he wrote with Carrie Underwood), a sharp, punchy rendition of the Luke Bryan hit That’s My Kinda Night, and his take on Morgan Evans’ Kiss Somebody, he particularly shone in the slower songs.  His performance of From The Ground Up (a song I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of previously) brought a tear to my eye, whilst new single Wide Open showed off the rockier side of his voice along with a singalong summery melody and got a huge round of applause from the crowd (which he was clearly very touched by). Additionally, he spoke very openly about his experiences as a songwriter, including writers’ retreats and how songs can change meaning over time.

As Chris ended the show with a fiery, defiant take on The Champion (yet another of his hits for Carrie), the crowd rose to their feet and gave all four performers the longest standing ovation I’ve ever witnessed – carrying on even after the house lights came up! For me it was nothing less than this truly magical performance deserved. So much of what makes these shows great is the bond between the performers, and whilst all four are stars in their own right, their chemistry together took it to the next level. They were riffing off each other and making jokes throughout (an early comment by Charlie about applause being ‘like an awkward hug’ rapidly became the running gag of thfe night), but also providing harmonies and accompaniment throughout. It was a shining example of the power of great songwriting and storytelling and I loved every second of it.

Set list: 1. Old Times Sake (Charlie Worsham) 2. I Need Real (Drake White) 3. Better Boyfriend (Ashley Campbell) 4. Good Girl (Chris DeStefano) 5. For The Love (Charlie Worsham) 6. Live Some 7. Wish I Wanted To (Ashley Campbell) 8. Kiss Somebody (Chris DeStefano) 9. Mississippi In July 10. Makin’ Me Look Good Again (Drake White) 11. Jackson’s Music Shop (Ashley Campbell) 12. From The Ground Up (Chris DeStefano) 13. Lawn Chair Don’t Care (Charlie Worsham) 14. Livin’ The Dream (Drake White) 15. Moonlight (Ashley Campbell) 16. Wide Open (Chris DeStefano) 17. Southern By The Grace Of God 18. All Would Be Right With The World (Drake White) 19. Remembering (Ashley Campbell) 20. That’s My Kinda Night (Chris DeStefano) 21. You Make Me Believe In Love (Charlie Worsham) 22. It Takes Time (Drake White) 23. Hey There Lonely Guy (Ashley Campbell) 24. The Champion (Chris DeStefano) Performance date: 11th October 2018

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