Rachel Croft, Lucy Grubb & Amanda Pascali & The Camden Chapel
A truly eclectic presentation from Cloudwatcher Uno & Talentbanq and saw three entertaining sets from female artists who might each otherwise be found on different nights playing with a full band.
The evening commenced with a UK debut for Amanda Pascali in one of the most unusual sets we'll hear this year. Hailing from Houston Texas of Italian decent, yet having spent the last year in Sicily her music would wrap all of these locations and the music you might expect from them and rolled them into one. Her songs would start in one language and change midway yet somehow through her sheer passion for what she was singing, it all seemed to make perfect sense.
Amanda was a tiny figure on the Camden Chapel stage, dressed in black with sandals, her curly hair and bright smile made for an endearing figure before she had uttered a single word. After a year of mainly speaking Italian in Sicily her accent was now a curious mix between American and Italian. Accompanied by Addison Freeman on mandolin she would take us on a most unusual musical journey.
Her first song "Little Bird" ( Uccellino ), had an opening that could easily have come from The Godfather, and as Amanda started to sing her voice was richer and sounded more mature than you would imagine could be produced by this tiny framed individual in front of us. Billed as being about being "Too foreign for here too foreign for home and never enough for both" this fusion of Italian and English speaking culture was engaging and full of drama.
Her second song "One By One" to all intents and purposes initially started as a countryish song, sung in English, for the main part, painting little vignettes of people seeking a better life. It would end with Amanda and Addison looking intently at each other!. Amanda having found music since picking up a guitar aged 12 uses music to tell both her and her families history - "Temporary Home" being her Father's life story, was once again a blur of culture, the words English the sound resolutely Italian. With Amanda providing percussion by knocking her guitar this was combination of cultures was undoubtedly unique and like nothing else we've ever seen before.
Another dual language song came in the shape of one of her singles "Hey Amorino" which was essentially a jaunty country song, a lovely guitar and mandolin combination, with Addison adding some additional backing vocals. If things had not been cosmopolitan enough, the infusion of Latin American culture into a song called "The Colonist's Tango" only increased the melting pot of cultures. Amanda's delivery took on a deep breathy aspect and then the drama turned to English referencing among others "Christopher Columbus". Such was Amanda's magnetic personality that she was able to keep the Camden Chapel hanging on ever word, whether or not they could actually understand it. This most intriguing set came to a close "To Sing and Recount" (Canta e Cunta) a song translated by Amanda from Sicilian into English encapsulating the work she had been doing in Palermo for the last year.
#TEAMw21 were first introduced to Lucy Grubb in 2018 at the Hard Rock Cafe when she wasn't even playing, and since then she may have served us a drink or two at The Green Note however this was to be the first time we had actually seen her play. Such was the swift turnaround on stage and the slow service at the bar that we nearly missed her again joining halfway through her opener "18 Miles To Go" from her 2017 EP of the same name.
Now based back in Norwich after spending some years in London, her second song was her 2021 EP title track "Waste My Time". After the expressive Amanda, Lucy almost seemed a little low key however on closer inspection her words were quietly cutting.
Lucy did mention that she is more often now to be found playing with her band rather than solo and paradoxically her guitar sound became very similar on her closing songs while the vocal and song content got ever stronger. There were lots of well observed lines from the Nashville TV series in "While It Lasted" It was refreshing to hear someone sing about a relationship being fun rather than a tragic break up,or being cheated on, which gave it a true sense of reality.
Her final song "You Don't Do Anything" was arguably the best of her short set, a country song where once again Lucy's voice was calm and measured while her words, razor sharp cut like a knife.
"Do you still have Johnny on your bedroom wall? - Do you still have problems with your alcohol?
No I changed my number since the last we called - no you don't do anything to me no more"
Rachel Croft is the overnight success that has been many years in the making. From a London perspective I'm not sure if she was on many peoples radar until recently, however a jaw dropping set at 229 supporting Jenny Colquitt well and truly announced her and she has already dropped a contender for single of the year - more of that later!
Taking to the stage in a cream dress and black boots which added additional inches to her already imposing figure - Rachel went to deliver a 50 minute set that would defy any attempts to classify her. The opener "Only Dreams" was something of a tour de force with which tostart. It also signalled the fake candles that adorned the Camden Chapel to start flying through the air like a scene from "Poltergeist". It may have been wind at the window however we like Rachel's explanation of her sonic waves causing them to suddenly take flight.
Rachel played an electric guitar, each note which was gently picked, she barely seemed to touch the strings yet was able to make this dreamy hypnotic sound. She sung in either a deep husky voice or higher pitched one with a siren like, almost operatic beauty. If there was any sort of influence on show then Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" would be the closest starting point but this was something else.
It was followed by "Hurricane" which saw Rachel move to a plectrum, and her playing became totally different, a more uptempo strumming style. Displaying a myriad of facial expressions as she sang - it was a more rootsy Americana sound. Rachel makes for charming company with an amusing line in patter. Revealed as coming to her in a dream "Weaver Bird" had definitely more of a folky feel, the gentle electric guitar melding perfectly with Rachel's beautiful delivery which soared like a bird at times.
Having mentioned that Rachel may have made one of the singles of the year already with her live single - it was time for her to play "Reap What You Sow", Simply brilliant from beginning to end, Rachel delivered this at times with big eyes and a huge smile. The second verse saw a dramatic 300% rise in volume that absolutely demanded your attention. Each line dripped in venom - this was as good a live performance of a song as we will see all year. For "Devil By Any Other Name" we got both an impressive whistling solo as well as a variety of vocal styles from all out rocker to some Eartha Kitt purring.
Not sure I can recall an artist play a song that they confessed to not being quite finished yet - "Shark Eyed Sugar" already sounded quite strong however if Rachel thinks she can improve it further I'll not argue.
A switch to acoustic guitar brought out a mellower side in Rachel's delivery - however it remained equally compelling. The first acoustic song will be her next single due in the Autumn - "I'll See You". It had the feel of a classic pop song even in this stripped back version with a chorus that just rolled off the tongue.
The final song "Rooms" saw Rachel create her Enya style opening - this was a song full of hair flicks and would build into something of a guitar crescendo. It was folk, it was Gaelic and it rocked - as we said at the start don't try to pigeon hole Rachel Croft!!
This is only one side of Rachel Croft - she is promising a London date with her band which will be a completely different all out rocking affair - and that promises to be another cracking night.