After being left thunderstruck last year when I discovered Chastity Brown, I was genuinely excited to see her again in the atmospheric and more intimate Cluny II.
Social media had been awash with mentions of the concert during the previous week, so I was disappointed to count 27 heads in the hall for support act Little Mo Scott, who is something of a stalwart of the local Blues scene. The chanteuse entertained us with a wide range of material from Son House through John Prine, coming out the other side with some Nina Simone and the Neville Brothers. While I liked the variety of songs, Mo’s presentation would have been more suited to a 1960s smoky nightclub or an Avant Gard Jazz Club rather than this particular venue.
Dressed in “double denim” and a pair of Blundstone work boots, Chastity Brown looked a little nervous as she was given a wonderful introduction. Before she sang a note, she thanked everyone for coming — especially promoter Graham Anderson for taking a risk two years previously by giving her the the opportunity to play in England for the first time, which I thought was a humbling and thoughtful touch.
The set was then opened with Devon Gray delicately playing the piano before Brown eased into the wonderful “Solely” with the utmost grace. She stopped halfway through, though, when she realized that she’d mixed up the second and third verses. Looking embarrassed but still smiling, the singer began again and the result was simply beautiful.
Sadly, I can’t give you the name of the next song, which is from her next album. Titles were in short supply. But I can tell you it was pretty damn cool and had a funky guitar solo towards the end.
Compared to the “back porch/sunny evening” songs on Back-Road Highway, the new songs — some still being tweaked in concert — are much grittier, introspective, and quite urban in character. They still ooze quality from every pore. The new single “Colorado” was by far the best of all the new songs. It had a passionate chorus to die for and, while Devon Gray stylishly accompanied Ms. Brown on the electric piano, he had also attached a mini-tambourine to his shoe and therefore added timpani too.
One song that stood out the last time I saw the singer play live was “Man and a Gun”, which didn’t appear on the album. Tonight’s version was so stark and simple, it set the hair on the back of my neck on end. I urge anyone who thinks owning a gun is cool to listen to this song.
I hadn’t remembered Brown being quite so chatty a year ago, but quite a few songs got introductions and back-stories (even if titles weren’t given). The longer the concert went on, the darker the stories and songs became.
My favourite song on the album, Leroy, was like a little ray of sunshine when it arrived, but it was stripped back a bit and took on something of a Southern Gothic tone.
The set ended with Brown asking if anyone liked Van Morrison. Obviously the response was in the affirmative and she then explained that Astral Weeks had been a turning point in her musical tastes — playing it over and over again until she wore the LP out. Then she had jaws hanging wide open with her rendition of “Sweet Thing”, as Gray barely brushed the piano keys. The duo thanked the crowd again before leaving the stage, counting to five, then returning to a tumultuous applause. They ended a wonderful evening with a stripped-back re-interpretation of the delightful “Slow Time” from Brown’s debut album.