Country Music Week 2020 kicked off in the stylish surroundings of Cadogan Hall with an Introducing Nashville Song Writers Round. First off though there was a free cd on entry and then the tradition that always falls somewhere in CMW, that is the announcing of next years C2C headliners, and it was good to see Bob Harris on the big screen making the announcements that equally traditionally send the Americana community into apoplexy or rapture depending on quite how many of your favourite acts have been chosen.
Once the announcement was out of the way, and after a twenty minute break to enable everyone to take in what they had just seen it was down to business, with 4 completely different takes on what being a Nashville Songwriter is. To the audiences left, there was Rachel Wammack sat behind a large highly polished piano for her keyboard driven contributions, next Travis Denning, one of the stand out finds from last years C2C and possibly the closest to what many would expect a Country singer to be like. Next up was the tall muscular figure that is Walker Hayes, by his own admission someone that divides opinion, tonight in a relaxed jocular mood and completing the line up another of the best finds in recent years Danielle Bradbury.
It was Rachel from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, on her first trip to the UK who was to open Round 1, with “Closure” from her debut EP. With her voice filling the hall on this big ballad, and with Travis gently adding some guitar and Danielle mouthing along to the words this was a great start to the evening. Travis Denning hidden beneath his snapback hat, immediately got the party atmosphere going with his tribute to beer “I Know Where It’s Going”, with Walker adding additional guitar and Danielle singing along as well, the benefits of being together on the road immediately started to bear fruit. Round 1 continued with Walker Hayes, who when supporting Old Dominion at Shepherd’s Bush was responsible for one of the longest 30 minutes of this reviewers life, but stripped of a booming bass and confined to his stool he was both affable and entertaining as he opened up with his single “Don’t Let Her” displaying a nice level of wit in his writing. The round closed out with Danielle visiting one of her singles in the shape of “Sway”. With a backing guitarist Daniel and assistance from Travis on guitar and Walker on vocals, this was the first song of the night to really lift the auditorium. By the second chorus all on stage were singing the chorus, and Danielle’s face was a delight as she left a final chorus for the audience to take over, it seemed to establish who was top of the pecking order without a doubt.
It was impossible not to fall in love with Rachel’s Alabama drawl, as she introduced an unrecorded song “Hometown Spirit”, with Travis on guitar, who at one point threw in a short solo on a song about taking her family with her in her heart when she travels. For Travis it was a continuation of his beer theme, and one of the hit songs from his recent O2 appearances, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs”.As with Danielle earlier, familiarity with the song brought a large degree of audience participation. Walker’s second contribution “You Broke Up With Me” from his album “Boom”, came with an unlikely introduction with him saying he had been in Italy studying Art History, the delivery though reminded me of why he splits opinion so much. Now in preparations for her third album Danielle chose to unveil a new song “Never Have I Ever” which attached some quick fire delivery verses attached to a great chorus, it’ll be a surprise if it does not make the cut to the new record.
Rachel Wammack continued to get better and better as the evening progressed, and “Damage” from her time spent as a bartender was a slow affecting ballad delivered with tenderness, her voice powering out over the sound of her piano. Travis revealed a song he had been saving for the UK, one that I suspect will be a firm favourite at future shows “ABBY (Any Body But You”) was both hilarious and instantly likeable. Walker then played a song inspired by one of his more vociferous haters, “Your Girlfriend Does”, with its high pitched chorus. It admittedly did have some funny lines and brought some humour to the night. With Rachel adding some piano, Danielle closed out the round in style with “Potential”, a truly beautiful performance of strong controlled singing.
Rachel opened Round 4 with another unreleased song, and acknowledging that her debut EP was packed with sad songs decided to play something upbeat. Having recently become married, “What He Does” is an explanation of what her husband does that others did not. Travis also let down his shields to reveal a more tender side in “I’m Gonna Love You”, a slower more considered ballad that came with a lovely story of how songs can mean different things to different people, it also showed him to be capable of a different style of writing, and he carried it off with some aplomb. Walker Hayes enlisted Rachel Wammack to take on Nicole Galyon’s role on “Halloween”, with Walker’s rap style delivered verses meeting with Rachel singing the chorus, it ended as a true duet. Danielle confirmed her position as someone likely to go places, with her Thomas Rhett co written track “What Are We Doing”, this version far superior to the recorded version, with Danielle's voice allowed to be the star uninterrupted.
The final round as ever came round far too soon, Rachel continued her fine run of form with both a heartbreaking introduction story followed by her best song of a very impressive bunch ,in the shape of “Something People Say”, a neat sophisticated piece of songwriting that it was a pleasure to listen to. Travis closed out his rounds with his single “After a Few” which had the audience clapping from the opening chord, with his stomp box adding some volume, this was a fine way to sign off and came with the offer to meet him later for some beers!! The final contribution from Walker Hayes was “Lela’s Star’s”, was a return to his rap style of delivery, but somehow in the surroundings and with the back story it seemed to work on the night. The round and the evening ended with Danielle once again confirming her star status with a pretty much faultless performance of “Worth It” leaving it to the final notes to deliver some spectacularly powerful singing.
With all the artists staying for a Meet and Greet with the audience this was a great way to kick of Country Music Week.