Isabella Coulstock - The Stables - Milton Keynes
In these darkened times it is hard to find "Reasons to be cheerful" however an evening spent in the company of Isabella Coulstock is certainly one of them. It's been a good few months since we last met, in the meantime Isabella has released two singles as well touring with The Who and Jools Holland. She has certainly fulfilled our prediction of being one to watch in 2023 yet there is so much more to do, tonight will only reconfirm our faith that she is perfectly poised to do it.
Taking to the stage with a big smile, that would hardly leave her face throughout the entire evening, Isabella welcomed us noting it was like we were all in her living room. Such is the crazy world that Isabella inhabits at the moment that she has gone from the enormous cavern that is the O2 to a rectangular room in Milton Keynes where the "light show" and we'll use that term loosely, consisted of a man doing little more than turning them on and off and switching the colour of the LED's to create an effect!.
Opening with "Nice Ain't A Good Colour For Me", there was strident guitar playing, the odd rock pose, superb singing and an air of supreme confidence. Some artists take a little while to warm up - Isabella was like a racehorse out of the stalls tonight and would not let standards slip for a second, no fillers to be found in this show, which would see the airing of some new songs, some new covers and a visit to a cover that she had inadvertently teased us with at our last meeting at The Green Note, only to then not go on and play it!.
The first of the new songs arrived with "Smalltown Summer Feeling" , it immediately conjured up the warm summer nights once again where we could
"do a little wrong and do a little right". It would see Isabella make one her many visits to the front of the stage as she played an instrumental break - there was almost a flamenco feel in her playing at times and a touch of Spanish in the lyrics. The next new song was the hopefully pre Christmas single "Love", which on first inspection seemed a somewhat bland title for a song however we should have had faith.
A tale of long distance relationships, it came with a gently picked guitar part, and lyrics so packed full of imagery that when the chorus ended on just the one word "Love" it seemed perfect. The art of making a brand new song sound like you have known it all your life is a rare talent yet one with which Isabella is abundantly blessed. If she had told us it was an old Carpenters B side we'd have happily believed her - it was immediately attention grabbing.
It was a case of going from future single to current single with "Broken", a return to the robust style of guitar playing that easily generated as much oomph as the full band does playing on the single and the vocal has just that little extra feeling. A move to the piano would see the first of the evenings impeccable covers, one the she had teased us with at The Green Note in soundcheck but then not played. Full kudos to Isabella for not just playing "Wichita Lineman" but also to name checking it's creator, Jimmy Webb, it was a nice touch and shows how seriously she appreciates other peoples songs. It is a copper bottomed song that would be hard to spoil, yet by any standards this version, slightly slowed down was sublime and somehow made it Isabella's - especially with her marvellously extended final note. What was even more amazing was how well her own composition "You Know You're Better Than That" nestled alongside the previous classic and matched it note for note in its brilliance.
A return to guitar would see another new song "The Break Up Song", it's a bit of a rite of passage song for female songwriters, both here and in Nashville, the art is being able to make yours different enough from anybody else's and Isabella has seemingly managed that. One of the joys of seeing Isabella is a chance to pick up her wonderful available "At gig only" cd, it is everything and more of what you get when you see her live and "Westerly Winds" her next tune is nestled away on it. Written with Jools Holland's guitarist Mark Flanagan, it is the most classic country vocal that Isabella will deliver throughout the evening and also will see her move to a Roy Orbison guitar style at times building the drama. Closing the first half of the night with "Revolution" she was able to get the audience to singalong with the merest "You know you want to" !! It was a soaring masterpiece on the night - and if she'd walked off stage and said "Good night" we'd have thought ourselves well entertained for the evening - yet this was only half time!!!
Returning from the break, Isabella not only resumed where she had left off but raised the bar higher. launching straight into "Who Do You Think You Are?", you'd have to be cold hearted not to be touched by the young lady in front of you baring her soul
"I told you, I want you, I need you, I love you", ever the consumate professional, after all that drama the final note is just left hanging in in the air. One of the most reassuring moments of the whole evening was when Isabella asked if anyone had been there when she played the main room earlier in the year with Nell Bryden, and the cry from nearly the whole room was "Yes". Probably mainly on the strength of that one support slot she had virtually filled the room - which fills the old adage there are only 2 types of Isabella Coulstock fans, those that love her and those that haven't seen her yet!
#TEAMw21 have waxed lyrical about "The Riverside" before, tonight's version was again a classic, the hypnotic guitar line, the haunting lyrics the perfect delivery - it is a thing of such precious beauty, totally made up by Ms Coulstock.
The variation of the evening would continue with another Coulstock/Jankel composition "The Road", with Isabella's guitar definitely taking on an Americana feel. More appreciation of other songwriters would come with tribute tof #TEAMw21 favourite Brandy Clark and a version of "Buried" . It was during "Fast" that the Stables crew felt emboldened enough to start a light show of differing colours! This was an evening where you could ask the audience to pick their highlight, and everyone could easily choose something different, "Borderline" with it's sad backstory is another piece of music that truly moves you.
A final move to the piano would see "Living In A Country Song" followed by what many might be consider to be a bit of cheesy 80's ballad in Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting". Yet listening to it stripped back the words seemed to leap to the forefront and seem more heartfelt.
The closing sequence would take us into "Classic Coulstock Country" - the singalong of "Honky Tonk Beer" and back to the beginning of it all with "Crazy Cowboy" written as a 13 year old. An encore of "Jolene" finished off undoubtedly one of the finest nights of the year. We will certainly let our bet on Isabella roll on for another year "one to watch in 2023" - it will be a case of see how far she can go in 2024 - see her while you can!!