Thursday, 8 June 2017

Kyshona and Robert Lane - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Wednesday 7th June 2017

Many artists pass through the brick walled surroundings of the Kitchen Garden, but surely few could have put in such a rip-roaring vocal performance like Kyshona did on this, the second night of her current ‘United’ UK tour. Indeed this pulsating singer-songwriter (South Carolina raised now Nashville based)  was making a return to Birmingham, and this venue in particular, after a debut slot last September, but the reins were definitely loosened for this revised format.

Kyshona Armstrong, to give her the rarely used full formal name, was a member of the Nashville in the Round song writing trio which toured venues up and down the country in the autumn of 2016. The opening act for those set of dates was the prime reason for Kyshona treading many of the same venues on this new tour with the performer in question, Birmingham based songwriter Robert Lane, now being the gig partner rather than support. To be fair he was never going to compete in the vocal stakes but settled into a role of casting some homespun tunes to an audience who seemed to grow into the gig as the brace of sets rolled out.

From the depth of her musical soul, there was no denying that Kyshona’s roots burrow deep into the world of gospel, soul and blues. She may have headed to the corporate infrastructural outlet of Nashville Tennessee to attempt to turn the riches of her heart into something more tangible to deal with the cost of living, but the feeling she radiates is rooted firm in the wider South. In this less restricted format of just rotating with one fellow performer instead of two, we were exposed to a far deeper revelation of her repertoire, both in song share and candid insights.

Although the tour had been months in the planning, it has been barely a week since this unlikely duo were re-united and just the second show of implementing a variety of vocal and guitar arrangements into each other songs. Robert was far more active in collaboration, mainly on the guitar front as he switched from acoustic to electric towards the end of the show. Kyshona tended to remain on guest vocal harmony duty for her co-performer’s songs, careful not to dominate them.

The contrasts were aplenty in style with Robert’s mix of very English-like folk-pop-rock tunes creating an air of duality against Kyshona’s  more gutsy heart spun efforts. Both artists shared a decent amount of material from a couple of recent releases, keeping the obligatory cover for the encore when the audience needed little inducing to help along with the chorus of ‘Too Love Somebody’.

Earlier in the show, further audience participation was attempted at various levels with both performers determined to make the event a shared experience. To a large degree this was confirmed by the general reaction and you felt the endeavours to make this unison a success were paid off. Robert’s natural persona to engage with the listener both within and between his songs is key to his development on the local and wider singer-songwriter circuit. Kyshona’s humility, gratitude and sheer passion to overcome some of life’s injustices shine as brightly as when her powerful vocals explode in a cocktail of gospel, soul and blues.

Just taking a sample of songs on offer from this show: ‘Can You Feel it’, ‘The Best of You’, ‘Same Blood’ and ‘Heaven is a Beautiful Place ‘made compelling cases for forwarding the material of Kyshona. In fact the latter was a song grabbed from her Grandpa in his dying ember days, highlighting how family and the church have been a guiding influence for her music. Robert’s picks could quite easily be his song writing retreat effort ‘It Feels Like 5000 Miles’, the rockier ‘You Want it Both Ways’ and the lyrically incisive ‘Teardrop Tattoo’. More material from both artists is available from the usual sources as well as within their own online grottos and the ubiquitous merch table. There is an inference though that both artists are generally born to prosper in the live environment.

Over the next couple of weeks the ‘United’ tour will wheel its way around the UK coming to halt with the proverbial question: what next? It is safe to assume that Robert Lane will pop up on the home scene where he continues to strive to make a name. Kyshona will no doubt head back to the States to continue that concerted effort to push songs in what can be a crowded market. Hopefully these two trips to the UK will be a catalyst for further liaisons with our country. She is far too good to end it here as there is a burgeoning market this side of the pond for the slice of the South that she imparts through her gifted craft.

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