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Gill Landry Live in Chester

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St Mary’s Performance Space, Chester, 15 February 2020.

The city of Chester has until recently lacked good live venues. That changed a few years ago with the advent of The Live Rooms, notable for its rock ‘n’ roll schedule, and this bijou venue at a former church. Being based in Chester I of course welcome good venues (which encourage some of the best artists around) and the convenience of reviewing and photographing. St Mary’s has a wonderful acoustic quality which attracts both fans and artists (especially singer/songwriters). First on the menu was a familiar face at St Mary’s.

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Singer/songwriter Tom Blackwell performs in many of the small venues across the North of England, distilling his blues, folk, soul and gospel influences into what Bob Harris has rightly described as, “Wonderful, heartfelt music.”

In 2018 Blackwell released the first of his MEMPHIS series of albums. The new recordings are minimal, unadorned. There is nothing wasted or unnecessary cluttering the sound, just emotive vocals framed by quiet guitar and harmonica. The essence of everything Blackwell does is in his plaintif and soulful singing voice. On stage he may punctuate with mournful harmonica and emphasise with expressive guitar, but it is the vocal that is the heart-rending centre of his art.

His lyrics are elemental, relying on natural metaphor and spare phrasing to render their stories; the resultant music is intimate, whilst Blackwell’s voice has the emotional heft to convince. He sings his authentic songs as if he is living them - songs that feel as if they are coming to you rolling across the plains and through dusty mid-Western streets, classic Americana, telling stories of bruised hopes, and fragmented settlements between yearning and loss.

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The calm and ancient church is almost full for Blackwell who, without ceremony, began his set. Some biographies I have read tend to overstate the subject’s talents and nature, but on this occasion every word of it rang true. Blackwell is a passionate and expressive performer and you’d be very perceptive to spot that he’s not American, so convincing is his Americana twang. What came through loud and clear was his artistic integrity and devotion to his musical genre. Vocally, he hit every note with pinpoint accuracy and exhibited a useful vocal range.

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The audience responded to his songs and stagecraft with enthusiasm. My only criticism was in the song-writing in that while subject matter could not be faulted, every song sounded the same and melodies weren’t compelling enough. Blackwell has to be one of the best Americana performers in the UK, with a few tweaks could be the greatest.

https://www.blackwellsongs.com/

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