Of the many albums released during lockdown, Lauren Housley’s ‘Girl From the North’ is one to be savoured live. From the Americana and country core of her first two albums, Housley has added New Orleans blues and soul and even some psychedelic folk to her repertoire. All were on display in this assured performance magnificently led by Housley’s rich vocals. Sadly, the turnout for the first night of a UK tour for such a talented artist as Housley and her band was disappointing. Perhaps and perfectly understandably, people are reluctant to spend time in small venues and there were several other attractive gigs on that same night but Housley is hardly an unknown. As she was playing the Half Moon, her long-standing supporter Bob Harris was playing her latest single on his radio show.
Housley’s relief and excitement at being able to tour her new album was palpable. CJ Hillman’s pedal steel sounded like an exhalation of that release on opener ‘Bless His Soul’. On a cold night outside, the band radiated a warmth to which Housley’s voice added several degrees more. Together they soared from west London to west coast in a single song. “As nights get darker early” what better to follow than ‘Guaranteed Sunshine’? Sonic rays of that rich soulful sound filled every corner of the room. A folky vibe, layered rich guitars and backing vocals gave the song enough space to fill an arena. The brightest beam of course was Housley’s voice, “You’re my guaranteed sunshine/ every morning, noon and night”. There were no first night nerves, this outfit had rehearsed thoroughly. Following the album’s tracklist – it was the album launch night after all – this polished start carried on with ‘What’s Troubling You Child?’. Housley’s vocal range certainly expanded in a slower, deeply soulful style. Susan Tedeschi immediately sprang to mind.
‘Breakdown’ took Housley’s voice from a muscular Memphis soul to trippy San Francisco psychedelia, out of her ethereal wandering blasted the twin guitars of Thomas Dibb and Hillman. Between songs Housley described a hectic life in lockdown as she and her partner, Dibb, juggled looking after their newborn and wrote and recorded an album in the studio they built near their Sheffield home. A gentle muse on aspects of that time ’Stay Awake to Dream’ and a funky ‘This Ain’t The Life’ again demonstrated the new territory Housley is reaching with her new material. The catchy pop of ‘Ghost Town Blues’ from her debut record underlined how much Housley and her band were having a good time.
A gem was Housley’s cover of the Lowell George classic ‘Willin’’ where she was able to show her immense vocal scope as she melded the spoken opening lines into the rolling chorus of “I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari/ Tehachapi to Tonapah”. Returning to the new album Housley described ‘Sing to Me’ as an adult lullaby. Young Noah’s musical education has started early if mum sings him this lilting inspiration every day. She added that on the road all the band members take a turn in baby sitting. As she said of ‘Why Are We Making It So Hard?’ this is something we could all relate to. To a glistening flow of Americana guitars she pleads, “I can’t lie, I see it in your eyes/ We’re holding on to an old disguise.” Her harmonies with the band just added a further dimension.
One day when Lauren Housley plays much larger venues she might still end with the anthem ‘We’re Not Backing Down’. A swaggering exhilarating rock number gave everyone in the band cause to end on a high. Whatever the cause this is its rallying cry.
Housley’s voice was not the only star of the evening. Her band is first class. Dibb and Hillman duelled frequently, trading licks with precision as they demolished musical genres. Hillman’s pedal steel and Rickenbacker definitely leant a Byrds like feel as (guitar aside), Dibb could pass for a young Robbie Robertson tearing off a few solos with hat pushed back and glasses tilted forward. Drummer Xavier Winton and bassist Mark Lewis drove the rhythm section. Special mention must go to Robbie Cavanagh who opened the show. Never a fun task in front of so few in attendance he nevertheless filled the room with a voice that has been matured for years in vats of Americana. By his own admission, his songs do tend towards the morose, –‘Grief’ , ‘Missing You’, ‘Losing You’ – but he gave more than enough reason to explore his music.
In the Half Moon, Housley served up a crafted blend of Americana, country, soul and pop. The only extra ingredient required was more people to appreciate this smooth yet lively brew. Hopefully, those numbers will rise as she and her band move northwards on their UK tour.
Thanks to @mike710348 (Michael Butterworth Photographer) for all photos