Live Review: Kathryn Joseph

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This review originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on March 9, 2015.

Kathryn Joseph

King Tut’s, Glasgow

March 5

(Four stars)

It is rare to see the King Tut’s stage so barren, or the room so hushed. But you’d expect nothing less from Kathryn Joseph, whose unadorned and exquisite psalms are prone to rendering listeners dumbstruck.

The Scottish singer-songwriter has just released a remarkable debut album, Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled, on Hits The Fan – the record label that launched the career of Frightened Rabbit. Joseph’s zoological metaphors are more preoccupied with fragile avians, however, as evinced by soaring torch-song The Bird, and jaw-dropping lullaby The Crow, both of which made sublime appearances at this truly special Glasgow show.

She performed on her trademark vintage piano, augmented by stealth percussionist Marcus Mackay, on a stage bedecked with a single string of fairy lights. Her shadowy, sepia songs quietly illuminated the room, from enigmatic aria The Why, What Baby?, through downbeat pop serenade The Want, to wise and worn-out hymn The Weary. The latter, a devastating album highlight, prompted the enraptured audience to engage in an almost comical battle of loud applause – cheering, whistling, stamping, screaming, twerking (seriously) – in its shell-shocked aftermath.

For songs that are seemingly broken and bloodied, there’s a formidable resilience to Joseph’s performance and work, as brilliantly evinced on hushed piano sermon The Mouth (“And if you fall … cover it up”), which was particularly stunning – as was Mackay’s muted yet blind-siding drumming throughout.

You might hear echoes of Joanna Newsom, Billie Holiday or Karen Dalton (or even Lana Del Rey), but Joseph’s voice is truly her own. Bruised and yet beautiful, down but not out, her wonderful, visceral songs knocked King Tut’s for six. She is the real thing.

*

Footnote: I sat in for Vic Galloway on BBC Radio Scotland a couple of weeks back and Kathryn Joseph played an incredible live session for BBC Introducing. You can watch the songs she played, and an interview we did, here.

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