Had the Cheshire Cat appeared on stage tonight, its infamous grin would have been eclipsed by that of Elaine Lennon’s as she surveyed the sold out crowd populating The Glad Cafe for her album release show. Lennon’s been something of a local phenomenon having made her debut live appearance just one year ago, an appearance under the aegis of Celtic Connections when she appeared at, and eventually was a winner at the Danny Kyle open stage event, an annual talent show which attracts acts from all over the UK and abroad. The winners are awarded, aside from the accolades, a gig at the following year’s festival and thus here we were.
Having nurtured dreams of becoming a “proper” musician for many years, Ms. Lennon set about this with a vengeance in 2018, attending songwriting workshops which seem to have uncorked her genie. She’s been indefatigable on the live circuit, honing her act and achieving acclaim via various festival outings, all the while working on the songs which have come to fruition on her self titled debut album, officially released today but already well reviewed in several publications. Along the way she’s been noted as “One to watch” by the Nashville Songwriters’ Association International and also delivered a Tedx Talk featuring women who have forged their way in their chosen field.
So, tonight, Ms. Lennon’s keyboard is set stage front as she celebrates her album release to a packed out crowd. Admittedly, many were family and friends but, with Celtic Connections’ competition elsewhere in town (included a tempting triple bill led by The Felice Brothers), it was great to see so many others turn out to support a local act. She had something of a local supergroup backing her keyboard led songs. Findlay Napier, on acoustic guitar, had produced her album while Iain Sloan, guitar and pedal steel maestro, appears on the disc (and was playing his second consecutive show here, having done stellar duties for Peter Bruntnell the night before, we think he might have slept over underneath the stage). Joining them was James Edwyn on bass guitar following his very fine support slot.
One wouldn’t immediately hear a song of Lennon’s and categorise it as Americana. Indeed, it isn’t really and Lennon says during the show that she tries to defy genres. But when she launches into ‘Next Friday Night’, stripped of the album’s strings but layered tonight with Sloan’s creamy pedal steel, it’s hard not to think of Laurel Canyon confessionals. With her keyboards at the heart of the songs, there are definite whiffs of too many antecedents to name but what ultimately stands out is the quality of these songs allied to Lennon’s excellent singing. There are moments when she roots around neon lit Americana melodrama as on ‘This’, with Sloan’s Telecaster rumbling and twanging away while ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ (not the Neil Young number) is stone cold seventies bedsit album territory.
There’s blues, soul, gospel and jazz thrown into the mix. ‘Trouble’ and ‘Little Bird Little Sailor’ have that freewheeling dismantling of genres which characterised the melting pot of sixties visionaries while Lennon uses an archival recording of her uncle, a ‘60s jazz piano player, as backing for ‘In Songs We Live On’ recalling the likes of Maria Muldaur’s revitalisation of classic recordings. This was a particular favourite tonight but closing renditions of ‘She’s Got You’ and ‘By Your Side’ allowed that Lennon has certainly cracked the nut of how to write a classic song.
We need to note James Edwyn’s opening slot. Pithy and well performed, his songs, some from his two albums with his Borrowed Band, some new, grabbed the audience. Of note was a grand performance of ‘Pushing Statues’ with Lennon on stage to add harmonies while ‘Something Cold’ reminded us of how well Edwyn mines heartache. His new songs bode well for future recordings and it was gratifying to hear folk ask about him at the crowded merch table at the end of what was, an excellent and intimate evening of grand songs.