Jenn Bostic, Emma Stevens, Megan O'Neill & Laura Oakes - Bush Hall
Bush Hall seems to be fast becoming the venue synonymous with fantastic Americana shows, somehow the grandeur of the building, and the audiences the venue attracts seem to bring out the best in whoever performs there. Tonight with the audience split between a mixture of tables towards the front of the stage and normal seating for the rest of the hall there was a nice relaxed vibe around the room before a note was even struck.
The news that support was to be an "In The Round" session with Emma Stevens, Megan O'Neill and Laura Oakes only made the evening even better. Jenn Bostic an independent artist herself, has long made it a point of handing out support slots to other UK independents and what a joy it was to see these ladies take to the stage in such a prestige venue.
Round One commenced with Emma Stevens, risking it all on the very first song with a bit of audience participation on "Make My Day".. Perched somewhat perilously on a high stool her poppy opening immediately relaxed the audience and brought a bit of warmth into what was an unusually cold Bush Hall. Megan O'Neill fresh from her album launch last week was sat behind a keyboard and eschewed the chance to give it an early plug instead opting for the fan favourite song "Half Of Myself" famous for it's misheard line about the "Station without any loo". Megan's voice seemed to explode around the room and the simplicity of just voice and piano reminded us ( as if we needed it ) of just how fantastic she can be without a band. Mentioning those performing without a band neatly brings us to Laura Oakes, who may moons ago was quite oft to be found in a support slot playing solo and it was a joy to see her once again in this raw format. Her opening song "Glitter" from her most recent EP, was dedicated to Emma's glittery tights, it is a song that always brings a smile to the faces of an audience and was a perfect closer to the round.
The second round once again started with Emma who was able to put some context around her song "Sunflower" which is the joy of the "In The Round" environment. It was a quite beautiful performance earning Emma well deserved recognition and it was great to see Megan mouthing the lyrics as Emma sung, emphasising just how well these artists know each others work. Megan contributed "Don't Say It's Over" which is from her forthcoming album, which was totally absorbing and to close out a quite stunning round Laura Oakes returned to her latest EP for the excellent "Nashville Stole Your Girl", once again confirming her status as one of UK Country' s finest singers as she extracted every ounce of emotion into her performance
The reason this round worked so well was the perfect balance of the individuals, 2 guitars, and one keyboard, Emma with her pop sensibilities, mixing with Megan's keyboard driven ballads, leading to Laura's more country leaning tunes all sung to perfection. Emma was to go to the well of audience participation once again for her final song "Riptide" and was rewarded with a full Bush Hall clapping along with her uptempo tune. Megan was to mine her new album for "Without" which came with an impossibly catchy chorus. Laura went back to those original solo days for her closing song "Snakes and Ladders", and was truly touched to see Bush Hall providing the backing vocals as requested. It blended that well let's hope it is an experience that they can repeat at some future date.
With her band already running through the opening bars of "Wrong Thing" Jenn Bostic took to the stage in a red jumpsuit and rocked Bush Hall with her punchy rocking sound in her usual position standing behind her keyboard. The second song "Haunting Me" saw the arrival of her backing singers Natalie Palmer and the magnificent Kyshona standing almost statuesque with a wonderful grace and presence who bolstered the sound even more. The quiet intro to "Not Yet" beautifully set the scene for what becomes the bombastic chorus that shakes you to the very core.
The new album "Revival" has a wonderful gospel / blues sound running through it and "Lonely" was to provide a visit to the new soulful blues sound of her set with Jenn singing the opening verse, Kyshona letting rip on the second verse before both voices joined together for the remainder of the song. The audience was given its usual vocal and physical work out that is "Hollywood". Having seen the band a few months earlier in a snowbound London at the Hospital Club, it was great to marvel at how well they've developed as a unit. The new album is full of delights that all transfer well into the live arena, such as the Sarah Darling co write "Follow Your Own Star" which melds together snappy lyrics in the verses with a rocky chorus, while "Love You" a tribute to her husband was spectacular, with guest Dean Roberts providing backing vocals. When the song reached the key change it took things to another level literally and metaphorically.
Always expect the unexpected at a Jenn Bostic show - so when she gestured to one of the photographers during the blues of Bonnie Raitt's "Love Me Like A Man" to come on stage you might have imagined it was to capture a special moment on his camera, instead Andy Teo took over from Jenn on keyboards even throwing in his own solo, as did each member of the band in what turned out to be a mini showcase of their talents.
At this point, to calm every one down while still keeping the Bonnie Raitt theme going, the band vacated the stage to leave Jenn alone to play a magnificent version of "I Can't Make You Love Me" to a deathly silent hall. The solo set continued with another extraordinary vocal performance on "If You See Him". The mood was lightened with "I Just Don't Like You At All" which got many approving nods from the ladies in the house for its depictions of male failings, before Jenn once again held us in her grip with the emotional honesty of the lyrics of "Faint Of Heart".
The band returned for the closing section of songs which saw the classic pop of "Too Easy" and the empowering words that come from "Lamp", when the vocalists sang "Nothing's going to stop me" there was no denying that is was sung with real conviction. To close out the main set, there was a welcome return for all of the artists from the round who filled the tiny stage to provide additional backing vocals for "Revival". By the time it came to a close the good time feeling filled the venue and in our own way I think we felt blessed to have been able to share the evening.
It was not over yet, with two more aces to be played, "Jealous Of The Angels" loses none of it is power no matter how many times you hear it, if anything its pull becomes ever greater, and tonight the emotional power was immense with many people ending the song with a tear in the eye. It perfectly segued into "Amazing Grace" with Jenn taking the vocals first time round while for the reprise the audience sung in unison a capella. A final burst of sheer good time feeling came with "What Loves Feel Like" which segued into "People Get Ready" with Jenn, Natalie and Kyshona each taking a verse while the band once again showcase their talents.
Jenn's evening was not quite complete as she rushed to the merch table to say hello, and to hug as many people as she could in the time before curfew. Some times the stars collide and an event could not possibly have been any better, tonight was one of those nights.
Jenn Bostic & Laura Oakes will return to Buckle & Boots in June.22-24th 2018