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Phil Vassar, Gary Quinn, Lisa Wright O2 Academy Islington

It has been quite a remarkable week for UK Country music, two American stars have played headline shows in the UK ( Cam and Phil Vassar ) and each has chosen an unsigned British artist as their support. Even more surprising perhaps is that the same artist snaffled both slots, so Lisa Wright take a well earned bow. It may seem a relatively small thing but to give an idea of the effect it can have, the main talk after her set at The O2 Academy Islington was “Who is this Lisa Wright?”, “Where has she suddenly come from?”!!

Taking to the stage quite soon after doors opening Lisa played a short five song set that continued the run of form she has displayed since her return from treading the boards. The set opened with “Back To You” before moving on to the more upbeat “Why Would I Wanna”. She was exceptionally confident on stage and never more open and honest than on the introduction to “Giving Up The Ghost”, hopefully soon to appear on the her next EP, and the intensity created with a light quiver on those final lines when delivering those words about about being “So so close” to giving up – an absolutely outstanding moment. Another new song for the next EP was “Tennessee”, sounding better with each play and possibly Lisa’s most straight forward attempt at a classic country song to date. Her final song was the one written with Southend’s supreme songwriters “Holloway Road”. This version of "In The End" saw the recorded piano version move to a deceptively simple guitar riff while the lyrics were quite beautifully sung bringing her set to a suitably fitting close.

It is always good to see Gary Quinn make the trip down to London, even better when he comes with a newly released album, “The Lounge Recordings” a mix of songs old and new recorded simply and acoustically. Playing tonight solo, the opening song was Gary’s take on a sexy song with “Body Language”. The first of the new songs was “Warm Dark Of Night”, co written with Steve Wariner which was a big country classic you could easily imagine Darius Rucker turning out. To get the party well and truly started there was a return to his debut album for “On your Way Out” but the most noticeable thing about tonight’s performance were those new songs peppered throughout the set, each one a little gem, none more so than the Jenn Bostic co written “Love and Lose”. This was a big song that came with some suitably big singing that showed off Gary at his best.

Another new song “Crazy Idea” was possibly a different path for the person in “He Don’t Show Her Anymore, where the husband pays attention and the couple sit down and rekindle their relationship. A rocking finale came in the shape of "Shame" that set the crowd up perfectly for the arrival of Phil Vassar.

Phil Vassar stole our hearts with his display of outstanding showmanship at the inaugural Buckle and Boots and tonight was to show more of that irrepressible performing spirit. He has the air of nonchalance, not having a set list while at the same time he has an impressively well drilled band. The thing that also sets Phil apart from many country performers is that the fact that his songs are piano led which takes his sound off in a completely different direction to many other Country performers.

Tonight’s audience were in raptures from the opening riff and by "Just Another Day In Paradise" they were filling the room in unison as they would do for pretty much most of the evening. Whether flicking from greatest hits such as "The Next 30 Years" or new songs such as "I Wish You Were Beer" from "Look Back Forward" he has the unique ability to make any song even one you were hearing for the first time sound like an old favourite. There was a lovely long piano intro intro for the next song which saw the room erupt as it turned into "Bye Bye".

Phil would say how he followed in the footsteps of the like Elton John, Bill Joel and Bob Seger and it was the latter that was paid tribute to in "The Sound Of a Million Dreams". By now the room was swelteringly hot but there was to be no let up in pace as we went from his first number one "Little Red Rodeo" which was followed by a quick bit of call and response with the crowd before laying into "6 Pack Summer" which then took us into a medley of songs based on the same riff "Stay", "Late December Back In 63" as well as "Sherry".

Lisa Wright returned to the stage to take Sarah Darling's place on "Voice In My Head" and did a cracking job. while Phil continued to belt out hit after hit, his vocal performance on "The Last Day Of My Life" was outstanding, truly giving everything. But that was not the end he ploughed on into the "Hot Tub" song "I'll Take That As A Yes" before closing out the main set with a true story set to music "I'm Alright". The end when it came was a song from the new album, "Amazing Grace" ( no not that one!) it followed a familiar pattern, a rock solid tune driven by the piano with a zillion hooks.

The new album is called "Look Back Forward", let's just look forward to a repeat visit from Phil sometime soon.



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