CATHRYN CRAIG & BRIAN WILLOUGHBY – In Concert Saint Pancras Old Church London (Cabritunes CAB009)

In Concert Saint Pancras Old Church LondonThe title says it all. Cathryn and Brian recorded the final gig of their 2016 UK tour – well, the first leg of it, anyway; they’re on the road again now – for their first live album. They prefer studio recording so this is a bit of a step but if you have heard them live you’ll know that their shows add an extra dimension to their music and Cathryn’s voice and Brian’s guitars are enhanced by the acoustics of Saint Pancras Old Church.

They begin, as always, with Shel Silverstein’s ‘That Ol’ Guitar’ and we know now that it isn’t autobiographical as Brian and Cathryn married in Nashville in July. It may a little young to be considered a country classic yet but it’s heading that way. From that, they dig into material from their most recent studio album, In America, some of which explores Brian’s Irish heritage. First comes ‘Malahide Moon’ for his father and ‘These Old Stone Walls’ for his uncle which Brian decorates with an ethereal E-bow part. ‘A Soft Place To Fall’ is for Cathryn’s daughter and ‘Time Has Proved You Right’ is dedicated to the Hillsborough survivors.

I’m sure they timed ‘Spirit Is Stronger Than Truth’ to coincide with the ten o’clock chimes of the church clock (Cathryn hints as much) and I swear they are in the right key, too. This album makes space for a Willoughby solo, ‘Fingers Crossed’, something that often gets squeezed out of studio sets but he also gets to stretch out with some gorgeous guitar breaks notably on ‘Two Hearts One Love’. The set can’t be complete without ‘Alice’s Song’ and I guess that Cathryn’s nod to her early professional career in ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ will be a semi-permanent feature in their set.

They encore with a real country classic, ‘My Window Faces The South’, as recorded in 1938 by Bob Wills and a more un-churchlike sound you couldn’t wish to hear and both Cathryn and Brian let their hair down. I know the serious and thoughtful songs are their stock in trade but they should let themselves go a little more often.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.craigandwilloughby.com