SHAWN COLVIN shines at Transatlantic Sessions in Manchester

Three-time Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter SHAWN COLVIN is back in the UK. Born in South Dakota, the American Lilith Fair icon released her eighth studio album All Fall Down in 2012, and has now joined the ranks of TRANSATLANTIC SESSIONS musicians for their latest tour. I’m here today to savour the 17-strong lineup on their final date at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall.

The live Transatlantic Sessions, in association with the much-acclaimed Celtic Connections festival, feature musicians from both sides of the North Atlantic, and have developed a well-earned reputation for being among the most enjoyable shows you could ever attend. Each musician has a unique stage presence and enormous talent that, combined together, produces an energy off the stage which goes beyond words. To match the inevitable musical extravaganza, the excitement in the audience tonight is palpable even before a single note has rung out.

Utterings of Colvin’s name are widespread as the crowds settle into their seats, but it’s the entire event that we’re all anticipating. Not far off 3 hours’ long, this is one show which is set to deliver. In fact, it’s not long before the stage becomes something akin to your local pub with resting musicians perched behind the stage within view of the audience and cheering on colleagues while they take a break in between songs – it does begin to look like something not unlike grown-up musical-chairs as each musician takes turns to show off their talents and passions, often bantering and giggling affectionately with each other. Accents abound as we hear variations of Irish, Scottish, English and American overlap with ease. With the full set of 17 onstage at times, solo and mini-group songs serve to break up the flow, lending a spontaneity and charm to the overall programming of which there is never a dull moment.

Texan-born 22-year old SARAH JAROSZ impresses with her strong vocals and slick guitar and banjo strokes. Grammy-nominated twice this year for new album and title-song Build Me Up From Bones, the singer-songwriter is generating buzz and stands out as one of the night’s stars.

Likewise, Scottish singer JULIE FOWLIS almost steals the show with her charm and beautiful, rousing vocals – the Gaelic language melting delightfully off her tongue.

To an introduction that everyone has “fallen in love with” her on the tour, Shawn Colvin appears in a stylish black number to huge applause and cheers. Ever humble, she apologises for her song to come: “I always feel really bad, because my song is just a little bit spiteful, actually…” to which the house band respond supportively, “We’re ready for it!” Perfect and powerful vocals emanate as Colvin hits out the brilliant All Fall Down, inducing a sudden shiver down the spine and goosebumps – it’s as if no time at all has passed since her ‘90s heyday, her musicianship in a class of its own. Introducing That Don’t Worry Me Now off 2006 album These Four Walls, she shyly explains her auto-tuner: “My hearing isn’t what it used to be… but I don’t see as well as I used to either, so this doesn’t help me a bit!” Graciously thanking everybody, she exits to leave the band to play us out before the intermission.

As America’s JERRY DOUGLAS opens up the second half talking about how much fun he’s had being part of the Transatlantic Sessions legacy, he treats us to a gorgeous lap steel guitar solo, nicely warming us up for fellow Americans TIM O’BRIEN and DARRELL SCOTT’s brilliant dueting. Just when you thought things couldn’t get more entertaining, Jarosz returns to perform Build Me Up From Bones and to collaborate on folk song classic Shady Grove. Fowlis makes a reappearance this time for the fabulous Hùg Air A’ Bhonaid Mhòir (Celebrate the Big Bonnet). Finally, the crowds just can’t get enough of Colvin as she reappears, her vocals on These Four Walls so piercingly intense she practically breaks the air with the raw emotion, while Diamond in the Rough (which also forms the title of her 2012 memoirs) is a suitable closer to the show.

Back in the encore to perform an incredible set of reels, the 17 musicians leave us all on a high and gratefully take a bow together, all looking somewhat forlorn what with this being their last night. The crowds also look like they could easily go another few rounds with Shawn Colvin et al, but it’s hometime for all as the Sessions wind up, Colvin a welcome and popular addition to this special circle.