Brandi Carlile, Borderline, London

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The Independent Culture

"Do you mind if we get a little bit country on ya?" inquires Brandi Carlile cheerfully, as her entourage of publicists, watching anxiously in the wings, shift uneasily. The C-word, they believe, is a liability in the UK where country music is still routinely derided as the domain of big-haired ladies in rhinestones and big-hatted men in cowboy boots.

But it's an inescapable fact that the Seattle-born singer-songwriter has a classic country voice. And having grown up on a diet of Patsy Cline records, she clearly has no intention of hiding her roots on her first trip outside North America. In fact, she goes on to serenade the audience with snatches of classic country Tammy Wynette's "DIVORCE" and "Stand By Your Man", Loretta Lynn's "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" and encores with a storming version of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues".

She's also more than "just" a country artist. Equally influenced by early-1970s soft-rock, her own songs chug along in a similar vein to those of James Blunt. Easy on the ear, they introduce themselves with pretty acoustic guitar or piano melodies and build gently towards anthemic choruses that tend to stick in your head.

Her band, built around the twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth on guitar, bass and vocal harmonies, supplemented by Josh Neumann's cello and drummer Matt Chamberlain, never tries to steal the limelight. Their strengths are the twins' harmonies, particularly on the acoustic "Cannonball" and "How These Days".

Less successful are a singalong version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" served up as a sop to an already adulatory crowd full of female couples Carlile has a devoted following on the lesbian circuit and a self-penned pastiche of cheesy country-and-western music, though it brings the house down when its heroine jilts her cheatin' man with the words: "You can keep your ring and I'll keep my daddy's name."

For a finale, Carlile returns to the stage alone with her acoustic guitar and tackles "Hallelujah". More Buckley than Cohen, she silences the chatter and leaves the room spellbound in awe of her great asset...that voice.

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