I first heard of Whitney Rose sometime in the latter half of 2017, though her career goes back more than half a decade before that. Her latest album, Rule 62, took the number 9 spot in my Top 10 Albums of 2017, and had I listened to it more in 2017, I’m sure it would have featured higher. My ignorance of her music was equalled by my ignorance of her UK tour, which I only found out about thanks to someone mentioning it on a country music Facebook group a month before the London gig. So on Easter Sunday, exactly 4 weeks before the scheduled Green Note promoted date at The Lexington I bought a ticket, Just the one though, as this was to be my first time going solo to a gig in some years, but more on that another time.
I got into The Lexington at around 7.20am and had just under an hour to wait for support act Pepe Belmonte, who I owe a big apology to. You see, attending this gig on my own, something I haven’t done in a good while, and looking out for a friend who was going to be there later, my focus wasn’t solely on Pepe, as it should have been. That said, he was really good, mixing skilled musicianship and a good bluesy voice, with some great humour, all of which combined to make the assembled crowd very happy indeed. There was one song, in particular, that had me in stitches, but such was my preoccupation, I have forgotten any specifics. Once again, I do apologise Pepe, this is a terrible account of your time performing on Sunday, but I did really like what I heard and will make every effort to see you live again soon, and take proper notice this time.
After a short break it was time for headliner Whitney Rose to take the stage, except it wasn’t. Before Whitney came out we were treated, and yes I do mean treated, to an instrumental from her very talented band, something I’d appreciate more as the night progressed. After a few minutes Whitney joined the band, and with guitar hanging from her shoulder, she started to play, and sing. What became evident almost immediately, is that every bit of emotion that goes into writing her songs, comes out tenfold when performing them live. Though I wasn’t stood at the front I wasn’t too far away, and thanks to meeting a friend, and a new friend by consequence, I was feeling a lot more comfortable.
Having all but her debut self-titled album, I knew almost every song, and even found myself singing along, quietly, to quite a few. I surprised myself at how well I knew her material, and thanked my lucky stars that I’d not only stumbled upon its mention but had gone, something that wasn’t a foregone conclusion 24 hours earlier. Within the first few notes of Wake Me In Wyoming I knew my favourite Whitney Rose song was being played and I was in my element. It sounded incredible, as her vocals filled the room with a dreamlike quality, something which never faltered from the very first to the very last word she sung all night. On stage Whitney has a very unique presence, commanding attention with ease. At times, when not behind the microphone she would strut, no glide, across the stage, with a knowing, almost mischievous look on her face. Whitney Rose is a textbook case of it’s not what you do, but how you do it. You only have to see her perform Can’t Stop Shakin to know what I mean.
I mentioned how great her band were earlier, but what also needs mentioned is the relationship Whitney has with them, making them a big part of the show, especially in the case of guitarist Mike Molnar who was a wizard on those 6 strings. She didn’t say a huge amount between songs, and while one part of would have liked to hear some stories about the origins of her stories, when you get them introduced with such one-liners as that song was about an a$$hole and this song is about another a$$hole, it makes up for it. There’s also the fact that with more chat comes fewer songs, and when you are watching someone as fantastic live as Whitney Rose, fewer songs is not something you even want to contemplate.
More often than not Whitney’s vocals are soulful, wistful and with a relaxed tempo, however, when let loose, as was the case with covers of Mark James’ Suspicious Minds (better known from Elvis Preseley) and Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me, I witnessed a powerhouse vocalist, proving her vocal range goes all the way up to 11. The latter of those songs she tore the house down and though the song was dedicated to all the women in attendance, and rightfully so, this man loved every second of it. Going back to Suspicious Minds and I’m reminded me of another one of her song introductions: this is the point in the night where I get sick of singing my own songs, or words to that effect. Who needs a recitation of her life story when we get statements like that, and not the dreaded fewer songs.
As is usual these days, Whitney and band left the stage, but unlike most didn’t leave us long before coming back on stage for the encore, though sans Whitney, again. It was band spotlight time, again, and in particular guitarist Mike Molnar. This is when she played her third cover, that being Jeannie C. Riley’s Harper Valley P.T.A., a song I embarrassingly didn’t know and had to ask my friend Lesley to remind of what it was. How could I not know this song by a country legend, and my namesake at that! Though I didn’t remember it on the night, listening to the original back home since, there are shades of recollection of my childhood days coming back, maybe. Speaking of Lesley, she writes for the fantastic Belles and Gals, run by Nick who I met that night. Thanks for keeping me company guys.
Never having seen Whitney Rose live before I wasn’t sure what to expect, but on that night in London she was flawless. Natural on stage is an understatement, and at 12 or 13 songs it wasn’t the longest set for a headline act, but one of the most memorable that’s for sure. Apparently she has called her music vintage-pop-infused-neo-traditional-country, which just about covers it, the parts I understand of that description anyway. What you do get with a Whitney Rose gig is a very honest and expressive performance, with vocals that you’ll struggle to top and a band that blend perfectly and chemistry that shines. One of my favourite Whitney Rose songs is Analog, a song that could be my mantra these days, as someone who is known to leave their phone at home and listen to their Sony Walkman (Google it kids) on the walk to work. However, as she didn’t play it at this gig I think it’s only fair that she comes back very soon and includes it in her set. Do we have a deal Whitney? I also didn’t stick around to meet Whitney as I had a train to catch, and a 20 minute walk through unfamilar territory to get there – next time.
To conclude, this past Sunday was one of the very best gigs I have had the pleasure to experience, and Whitney Rose has joined a modest list of people that I will be going out of my way to see each and every time they tour over here. Just thinking back makes me smile and when music does that, you know it’s good.