Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Charlotte Marshall & The 45s - Merchants Hall, Edinburgh, 9 August 2016

You'd be hard pushed to find a more incongruous setting for a show by Charlotte Marshall & The 45s than the portraits, cornices and domed atrium of Edinburgh's Merchants Hall. A dark and sweaty gin joint in the French Quarter of New Orleans - now that would be appropriate for Miss Marshall and her jazzy, bluesy combo.
Charlotte Marshall - small woman, big performer
The acoustics don't seem terribly sympathetic either, to begin with, as Marshall's vocals echo around the room.  Whether it's the sound or the ambience, things seem tentative at first, with Marshall treading carefully around the small stage in her high heels as they open up with the moody, restrained 'Big Easy Blues'.
This is a well-honed outfit though, so it doesn’t take long for the spot on horn arrangements and swirling keys of ‘Miss Jane’ to impress. And there’s a reason Marshall’s name is out front – she may be small, but she’s a big performer.
‘One Last Kiss Goodbye’ is the point where things really click, and it’s a country song of all things – a ballad that nails the country mood, exemplified by muted, twangy slide from guitarist Fraser John Lindsay and Marshall’s storytelling.
They keep up the good work on the good time dance number of ‘Soulful Dress’, with solos all round and some rattling honky tonk piano from Tim Brough.  Then they show off their Stax soul credentials with ‘Shake For Me Baby’, with great horns from Gordon Dickson and Fenwick Lawson underpinned by funky bass from Tim Clarke, while Lindsay comes over all Steve Cropper with choppy guitar.
Their first set closes with ‘Bootleg Liquor’, the lead track on their current EP, which slides back towards the Big Easy with its trad jazz feel over Latin drum rolls, set off with more barrelhouse piano from Brough and great energy from Marshall.
That energy carries over into their second set, as Marshall channels her inner Bette Midler on the NOLA blues of ‘Spring Cleaning’, which is delivered with wit and humour and a dash of ‘Tequila’.   She’s been harping on about the need for dancing from the start, to no effect, but what Miss Marshall wants, Miss Marshall gets, as a number of couples now hit the floor.By the time they get wired into Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ they’ve hit top gear, with Lawson’s trombone solo a highlight and Lindsay emulating the delightful wonkiness of Berry’s solo.  And the way Marshall is working the stage she clearly no longer gives a shit about treading carefully.
Fraser John Lindsay does his Chuck Berry imitation
Marshall straps on a guitar of her own for ‘Who Do You Boom Boom’, which which opens by blending the tension of the Doors’ ‘Roadhouse Blues’ with jazzy piano lines reminiscent of Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Get It Right Next Time’, before developing a rhythm like a rumble of thunder, Clarke’s bass bubbling away while Lindsay adds stinging slide fills.
They then change the mood entirely ‘I Never Meant To Fall In Love With You’, a torch song in the vein of Etta James.  And while Marshall’s vocal style doesn’t resemble Etta’s, she shows her own worth with an aching delivery, hitting some beautiful notes along the way to make it the highlight of the night.  Just for good measure she sells the smoky soul ballad ‘Dig My Love’ with a similarly big vocal performance before they wrap up for the night with the gospel-style ‘I Just Can’t Help Myself’, full of pulsing horns and call and response.
Charlotte Marshall & The 45s offer something different.  The New Orleans vibe stands out from the crowd, and the musicianship is strong.  They’re assembling a body of original material that stands up well in the company of classic covers.  And when she gets going Charlotte Marshall is magnetic, with the pipes to back it up.  I wonder how far they can take this recipe?

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