One of the great things about Country Music Week is that it can often throw you up some real surprises. This year, that seemed like it might be Matt Stell and Elvie Shane’s joint tour together. Due to their very different musical styles, there was a little uncertainty as to how the setup might work. But we knew we’d be in for a good show nonetheless, so set off to London’s Bush Hall for the last night of their visit (and of Country Music Week 2022).
What we got was a back-and-forth show with the two artists on stage together – plus backing musicians Matt and Bill – taking turns to play their songs acoustically. After flipping a plectrum for who would go first, Shane kicked off the first part of his set with recent single ‘County Roads’. It’s a punchy, rock-influenced number that showed off the gravel in his voice and definitely picked up the crowd’s energy. Right from the off he had the audience singing and clapping along, and they rewarded him with enormous cheers at the end.
That set the tone for much of Shane’s first set, which focused on his 2021 album ‘Backslider’. Songs like the twangy and nostalgic ‘Sundress’ and ‘My Kinda Trouble’, which saw him practically bouncing off his stool as he rattled through the fast-paced number, highlighted his vocal belt and skill as a lyricist. However, for me the early standouts were the two slower numbers. New song ‘Baptised’ had an atmospheric, smouldering feel about it whilst Shane’s vocal delivery reminded me of some of fellow Kentuckian Chris Stapleton’s heavier tracks, whilst breakup ballad ‘Rocket Science’ had some absolutely stunning imagery on the anthemic chorus (despite leading to a joke with Stell about mixed-up lyrics) and delivered an emotional gut punch as Shane delivered some absolutely belting notes.
Not to be outdone, Stell’s first pick was ‘Better Than That’, the title track from his 2020 EP. The song’s rocky touches showed a side to him we hadn’t seen previously in Country Music Week, and I was impressed with the power that he put into the delivery (as well as his sense of humour when he started by cracking jokes about hearing his name pronounced with a British accent!). He also showed his versatility on the likes of ‘Boyfriend Season’, a defiant kiss-off to an ex regretting their decision to leave, the soulful storytelling of ‘I Bet Whiskey Would’ and the warm, affectionate ballad ‘Man Made’. However, for me the standout was ‘Shut The Truck Up’, which highlighted the edge in his voice and was packed full of details, with more than a touch of regret that I thought he conveyed brilliantly.
After a short break midway through, the pair were back on stage for the second half of the show, which Shane opened with ‘Sundays In The South’, a slow, funky groove that captures the joy of Southern living. I liked that he chose to switch it up with a different sound and thought the song really brought out the drawl in his voice as well. He then brought a classic rock vibe on ‘I Will Run’, with its laid-back feel and smooth vocal delivery before rocking out again with ‘Love, Cold Beer, Cheap Smoke’ at the request of an audience member (even if Stell had to look up the lyrics for him online!). For his final solo song, he thanked the crowd before played his signature hit, ‘My Boy’, throwing in the ‘My Girl’ version for the last chorus. It was a surprisingly emotional moment, both for him and the audience, with everyone singing along to the chorus and Stell even filming a snippet – that’s when you know you’ve got something special.
For Stell’s second set, he chose to slow things down, starting with the bittersweet ‘That Ain’t Me No More’. I felt the song really highlighted the depth and richness in his voice, and loved the humour he threw in on the not-safe-for-work ‘original’ lyrics in the final chorus. Meanwhile, ‘Sadie’ saw him wistfully looking back on an old love and showing off some impressive vocal tricks, while ‘Everywhere But On’ had a yearning quality as Stell encouraged the crowd to sing along to the soaring chorus. He closed his section with ‘Prayed For You’, arguably the song that started it all for him. I could feel him pouring his heart into the delivery as his voice rang out, filling Bush Hall to the rafters and perfectly capturing the song’s sense of conviction and holding on to hope even in dark times.
After the audience demanded ‘one more song!’, Shane and Stell returned to the stage for a mashup of ‘It’s A Great Day To Be Alive’, ‘Champagne Supernova’ and ‘Shine’ by Collective Souls. I thought their vocals worked brilliantly together and loved that they pulled from so many different genres as well. It takes boldness for artists to go for that approach rather than sticking to one song and I was really impressed by the fact they took that risk – and sounded great doing it!
Overall I came away from Matt Stell and Elvie Shane’s show feeling like I’d just seen the arrival of the country scene’s next two big stars. Whilst they definitely have different styles, they both showed off the power and soul in their voices and had great energy as well as highlighting the sheer range and depth of their influences. I also thought they bounced off each other really well throughout the set too, cracking jokes and keeping the crowd’s energy high for the whole two-hour show. It was a brilliant performance from both of them and a great end to a triumphant return for Country Music Week. Here’s to next year – and seeing them both back in the UK soon!
Set list: Set 1 – 1. County Roads (performed by Elvie Shane) 2. Better Than That (performed by Matt Stell) 3. Sundress (performed by Elvie Shane) 4. Boyfriend Season (performed by Matt Stell) 5. My Kinda Trouble (performed by Elvie Shane) 6. I Bet Whiskey Would (performed by Matt Stell) 7. Baptised (performed by Elvie Shane) 8. Man Made (performed by Matt Stell) 9. Rocket Science (performed by Elvie Shane) 10. Shut The Truck Up (performed by Matt Stell) Set 2 – 11. Sundays In The South (performed by Elvie Shane) 12. That Ain’t Me No More (performed by Matt Stell) 13. I Will Run (performed by Elvie Shane) 14. Sadie (performed by Matt Stell) 15. Love, Cold Beer, Cheap Smoke (performed by Elvie Shane) 16. Everywhere But On (performed by Matt Stell) 17. My Boy/My Girl (performed by Elvie Shane) 18. Prayed For You (performed by Matt Stell) Encore: 19. It’s A Great Day To Be Alive/Champagne Supernova/Shine (Travis Tritt/Oasis/Collective Souls cover) (performed by Elvie Shane and Matt Stell) Performance date: 23rd October 2022
Elvie Shane’s album, ‘Backslider’, is out now on Wheelhouse Records.
Matt Stell’s latest single, ‘One Of Us’, is out now on Records/Arista Nashville. He will also be appearing at C2C: Country to Country in London, Glasgow and Dublin on 10-12 March 2023. Tickets are on sale now at https://c2c-countrytocountry.com/.