Review: Joanne Shaw Taylor – Queens Hall, Edinburgh

“Are you all sufficiently depressed…then we’ll carry on…it is called the Blues…” Putting the emphasis on the word “is”, the Midlands born and bred (now relocated to Nashville) force of nature that is guitarist/vocalist Joanne Shaw Taylor brings the audience back to reality after just nailing them to the wall with an emotion-packed acoustic version of ‘Fade Away’, a searing track which deals with the sad loss of her mother. The subject of loss is something that all too many in attendance will have first-hand experience of, and during the track’s four minutes, you could have heard a pin drop. Obvious musical talent aside, it’s that wry sense of humour and the connection with her audience that lingers on the most when the throng files out of the old church after nearly two hours of blues and soul music of the highest quality.

Having just released what is arguably her strongest album to date; ‘Nobody’s Fool’, Joanne Shaw Taylor – backed by one hell of a band – is ending 2022 in the way that she does best: performing in front of a live audience. Her obvious joy at being back on the road is plain for all to see, and the ear-to-ear grin that she sports during the opening track, a raucous version of ‘Stop Messin’ Round’, very rarely leaves her face throughout the evening. Quite a feat when you consider that she is playing “…the Blues…” – a genre not normally associated with smiles and laughter.

With two quickfire albums to draw upon; the aforementioned ‘Nobody’s Fool’ and 2021’s Blues-tribute album ‘The Blues Album’, much of the set is pulled from both. Which in turn highlights the depth of Taylor’s playing as it runs the full gamut of what you would expect from a Blues performer, as well as offering a sense of freshness with the new material – the light and breezy ‘Won’t Be Fooled Again’ in particular stands out as serving up something different and as Joanne mentions the 80’s cheese-fest video created for the track, she jokes “…the most important thing is if you don’t like it…you’re wrong…”. Such a wonderful warm sensation throughout this one, especially when Joanne and fellow guitarist, the suited and booted Joey Spina (who also sports a gorgeous Fender and an equally impressive beard), take turns to solo. The dust-filled ‘Bad Blood’ is another new track that stands out. Joanne tells the crowd that she worked with Joe Bonamassa on the new album and jokes that whenever she mentions that during a gig “…it’s either greeted with rapturous applause or one person shouting – Fuck that guy!”, she also recalls how she had Billy Bob Thornton on her wishlist for the promo video but alas it was not to be.

Your average blues performer likes to play it straight and keep the “enigmatic, tortured artist” stereotypes alive; not Joanne Shaw Taylor though. Her warmth and smile, and her sense of humour are infectious; especially before a stunning version of The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ ‘Two Time My Lovin’’, or when she asks if it is “bullshit or real” that middle names are usually your mother’s maiden name, and later on when she mentions that if you see a tour poster and your own city is not on it, then it is not her fault as she doesn’t book the gigs. Great examples of a performer breaking down any preconceived barriers that supposedly exist between an artist and their audience.

An all-seated auditorium is a challenge at times but surprisingly the crowd makes enough noise to keep it lively; ‘Three Time Loser’ is a toe-tapper that gets the blood pumping and during the always-sensational ‘Watch ‘em Burn’ there is a real sense that the audience wants to stand up but no-one wants to be the first. After a few moments, someone breaks ranks and stands up to bust a move or two, but then they blow it by doing that goddam annoying thing of walking up to a low stage and turning their back on the performer while they are letting loose and take a selfie…why, oh why. There’s also a great game of cat-and-mouse between someone who cannot stay seated and a security guard who, despite being in the twilight of his years, is not taking any shit, but by the time the encores swing around, the guard lightens up and the guy stays standing – his perseverance pays off as before Joanne leaves the stage she hands him a pick – result!

Joanne Shaw Taylor’s prowess on guitar is unquestionable (fantastic guitar tones throughout the evening, and she brings real weight when she changes from Fender to Gibson for ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’), and she has developed into one of the leading lights of the Blues scene, but her vocals also stand out just as much and at times her husky delivery sparks memories of the legendary Elkie Brooks. Discover for yourself on one of the remaining UK tour dates:

Milton Keynes, The Stables – Monday 5th December 2022

Portsmouth, Guildhall – Wednesday 7th December 2022

Stroud, The Subscription Rooms – Friday 9th December 2022

Ipswich, Corn Exchange – Saturday 10th December 2022

High Wycombe, Old Town Hall – Sunday 11th December 2022

Ticketing information, here.

All images – Callum Scott


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