The intimate Junction 2 in Cambridge provided the setting for the closing gig of Annie Dressner’s long-delayed headline UK tour, an excellent venue for an outstanding evening of entertainment. This was a particularly special show because Dressner was joined by her friend and collaborator David Ford for a large part of the evening. Dressner began solo for the first nine songs, swapping between her acoustic and electric guitars as she demonstrated how well she can captivate an audience with just her stories, her distinctive voice and her gentle strum or delicate finger-picking. The tour should have been celebrating the release of her last album, ‘Coffee At the Corner Bar’, but that was released two years ago and Dressner was able to open with a brand new single ‘I’ve Always Been Like This’, premiered recently by AUK (check it out here). Strummed on her acoustic, this engaging song is disarmingly personal, a theme song for outsiders and the lonely. Her conversational singing style is perfect for these lyrics because it generates the intimacy of an open-hearted conversation, in which the layers of herself are peeled away: “Am I alone in wishing that I was more like anybody else? // Am I alone in wishing that I was a lot less like me.” Ultimately, though, there’s positivity here as Dressner sings of those occasions when somebody instinctively understands her. This was followed up by one of Dressner’s most tuneful songs in the perfect nostalgia of ‘Nyack’, a song full of memory, enhanced by specific details of places and times: a particular tall rock wall, paw prints, campfires and talent shows. But there’s a twist in these childhood reminiscences when she admits, “I never wanted to be there at all.” With these two songs, Dressner made a really strong opening and the audience was captivated.
In between songs, Dressner talked of waking up in Sheffield that morning to the sound of a loud taekwondo session next door, of having to have her wedding band cut off, and of naming her electric guitar ‘George’ after fellow singer-songwriter Polly Paulusma asked her what it was called. She was engaging and endearing as we were drawn into her stories and songs. And George made quite a few appearances, most notably on ‘Brooklyn’, for which Dressner used a pick because, “When you strum a lot without a pick…you need a pick!” Highlights of the set included ‘Losing You’ with its extended vocal notes, also played on the electric, and ‘Dance We Do’, taken from a new EP written for the tour, something she had promised to put out if the tour poster was retweeted a hundred times. When she played ‘Look What You’re Doing to Us’, Dressner noted that the first time she had played it live was at this very same venue on a previous tour, a nice touch for the local fans. Finally, she said she had to choose between an upbeat song and a depressing one to finish with. Of course, she decided to, “…stay with the theme,” and played ‘Beyond the Leaves’, a delicate, melodic jewel of a song. It was a fine collection of songs. That there would be a second set after an interval, alongside David Ford, was a real treat.
Earlier this year, Annie Dressner and David Ford released ’48 Hours’, an EP named for the rapid way in which the songs came together in an explosion of creativity. The pair had struck up a friendship while sharing a stage and had started performing on one another’s songs. This flourishing partnership grew into a song-writing collaboration and the result is a fine piece of work, full of beautifully melodic songs. The blend of their voices is sublime and they produce adventurous harmonies. There was also a summer tour, spawned by the project, for which the duo had to write more songs that will hopefully be recorded soon. At Junction 2, the pair combined well, putting on a spellbinding performance.
The first of thirteen songs was ‘Easy Falling’, the opener from the EP. Ford was on guitar, finger-picking delicate notes as their voices rose and fell through a gorgeous, melancholic tune, the sound of resignation and regret. Dressner then took over on guitar for the next couple of songs, including the lovely ‘Strangers Who Knew Each Other’s Names’, the title track from her 2011 album. Ford played hypnotic keys and some of the other songs, adding an extra dimension and filling out their sound. Next up was ‘Give It All Up For You’, one of songs from their collaborative EP. On this, they ask the questions: “What is love? How does it grow…How long does it last? And how do you know when it’s over?” It’s beautifully bittersweet and their voices move around one another in a slow vocal dance, in unexpected harmony. A cover of ‘The Book of Love’ appeared on Dressner’s last album and, ere, the combination of their vocals made for a memorable version of a well-known song. ‘Union Square’, one of the songs written for the summer tour, was described as, “…super brand new,” and has all the delicacy and emotive pull of the songs featured on ’48 Hours’.
Beautifully crafted songs kept coming and one of the highlights was Ford’s song ‘Just Like You’, which was the first song the duo ever sang together. It was like a back and forth conversation and Ford’s well-chosen words offer a different view of love and relationships: “Maybe I’m just like you and I’m sick of all these ridiculous things I do.” In song and between songs, the interaction between the pair was greatly entertaining; they shared jokes and stories, discussed the music and supported one another. Ford amused the audience with talk about how his mind wanders during songs and he thinks about doing the laundry. He also let everyone know that his fingers were bleeding from playing the guitar, having cut his nails too short. He had tried strumming with his middle finger, only to find that it naturally sounded louder, so that finger proved useful for choruses. The music was in turn sorrowful, uplifting and mournful as their cleverly-written narratives of life and love unfolded. The evening closed with ‘Warning Sign’ from the duo’s collaborative EP, a song in which Ford’s and Dressner’s voices entwine perfectly as they deliver desperate, heartbreaking lines: “If we carry on like this // I don’t know what damage we might do // And if we go and breakdown // I don’t know if I could make it home without you.”
Both Annie Dressner and David Ford are talented songwriters with distinctive voices, intelligent, relatable lyrics and engaging tunes. However, when they write and perform together, the music becomes something new: they elevate one another with finely balanced and adventurous harmonies and their shared songs are captivating and gorgeously melodious. This was a mesmerising gig that passed all too swiftly. Let’s hope David Ford and Annie Dressner manage to record and tour together again soon.
Dressner told AUK what the tour had meant to her:
Annie Dressner Setlist:
1 I’ve Always Been Like This
3 When I See Stars
4 Dance We Do
7 Losing You
8 Look What You’re Doing To Us
9 Beyond The Leaves
David Ford & Annie Dressner Setlist:
1 Easy Falling
2 Never Let Me Go
3 Strangers Who Knew Each Other’s Names
4 Give It All Up For You
5 The Book Of Love
6 Union Square
7 Some Folks Are Just Lucky I Guess
8 Just Like You
9 Can’t Help What I Want
10 Something I’ll Have To Learn
11 Ain’t No Pleasing You
12 Put Me In A Corner
13 Warning Sign