CMA Songwriters Series - Indigo at the O2, London
Tying in with the epicentre of the country music revival in the UK - the C2C Country To Country festival - the CMA Songwriters Series is an attempt to give over a portion of the limelight to those behind the big names that light up the stage at the O2 over the weekend. The 2015 event mixed a legend - host Kix Brooks is half of legendary 90s duo Brooks & Dunn - with a critical darling in Brandy Clark; a TV star and budding musician in Sam Palladio (better known as Gunnar Scott from TV show Nashville) alongside two lesser known artists but hugely successful songwriters in their own right Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall. Whilst tying it in with C2C is an obvious and clever move, and against the background of huge growth that the event has had in its three years, it’s pleasing to see barely any empty seats dotted around the Indigo at the O2.
A rare opportunity to hear about the experiences that have led to the writing of some of the biggest hits in country radio, as the night progresses there are clear traits that each artist brings to the show: Brooks is like a runaway train, when his stories start they’re not stopping until the bitter end; Clark is the quiet one with the quick wit and most vivid songwriting. Newbie Palladio is just happy to be amongst this talent while married couple Alexander and Randall harmonise while delivering the massive hit singles that they co-wrote.
Among the songs delivered are the Brooks & Dunn number one hit ‘Red Dirt Road’, Miranda Lambert’s ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ and Kacey Musgraves ‘Follow Your Arrow’ (both Clark co-writes) and Hannah Montana/Joe McElderry hit ‘The Climb’. We also get to hear Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, and Dierks Bentley number ones, all written by one of Alexander or Randall. Not to be left out Palladio shows his songwriting smarts with a couple of originals - the touching ‘Wake Me up In Nashville’ and blasting ‘Lightening Bones’.
The relaxed feel of the evening is punctuated by genuine moments of fandom on stage as first Clark tells Brooks that his ‘Sacred Ground’ (written for McBride and the Ride) is one of her favourite songs ever, and Brooks exclaiming his genuine admiration for ‘I Drive Your Truck’. All five of the songwriters look on in a mix of bemusement and awe about halfway through the show as up and coming duo Striking Matches invade the stage for a searing acoustic version of ‘Make A Liar Out Of Me’. It's slightly out of context with the laid back feel of the rest of the show but an invigorating five minutes nonetheless.
Though the evening works well in it’s own right, as a part in the whole C2C weekend it’s symbolic of the current trends in country music: Saturday and Sunday are all flames, ear bleedingly loud music, and arena sized bombast; Friday is quiet, intimate, and all about the songs.