Review: ‘Kate Walsh; Freddie Stevenson’

Two distinct singer-songwriters from the U.K. wound up on the same bill Wednesday as refugees from last week's SXSW started making their way west.

Two distinct singer-songwriters from the U.K. wound up on the same bill Wednesday as refugees from last week’s SXSW started making their way west. Walsh, supporting her Verve Forecast album “Tim’s House,” which was already an iTunes chart-topper in the U.K., plays hushed, intimate numbers brimming with heartbreak.

Stevenson, whose second album “All My Strange Companions” will be released April 15, is a wordsmith who enthusiastically uses a vast range of emotions as springboards for songs cheery and comforting.

An overriding air of honesty connects the two singers, who are both firmly rooted in the confessional singer-songwriters of the early ‘70s but wildly different from each other. As nearly every Brit import these days seems to have an affinity for some strain of American soul music, it’s intriguing to see that Joni Mitchell and Tim Buckley have affected performers as well.

Walsh delivers her songs as she recorded them in her adopted hometown of Brighton on England’s southern coast. She pleads her case, or at least recounts what went wrong in a relationship, with no anger and only the occasional smidgeon of regret.

Romantic life is as much a challenge as writing a song for her, as she exquisitely reduces life to being stuck on a boy and stuck on a verse in “Your Song,” her single that was featured in a “Grey’s Anatomy” episode last year. Her guitar style is a dynamics-rich blend of strumming and finger-picking.

Appeal of Walsh lies in the manner in which her presentation asks the listener to come get under the covers with her and stay silent and supportive; she has an eloquent touch with sadness.

Stevenson is an altogether different character. A thin, bushy-haired man with a hat and suit, the half-Scot/half-American resident of London generally performs with a rock band. His songs, all of them bountiful in melodic hooks, bounce between the rambunctious and the gentle, referencing pop culture and matters of the heart.

His album reveals a man who has found his place in a continuum with Paul Simon as a starting point, yet his uniqueness comes from his hybridization of Brit and American sources: He may well be the first person to think of merging Buckley with the early works of John Martyn or Americanizing (through use of organ, certain chord progressions) Mike Scott and the Waterboys.

Appearing solo, Stevenson dramatically alters the presentation of several tunes, using a distinct guitar attack that emphasizes an upstroke of the high-pitched strings. A dramatic example is “Brand New Heart,” a winter-set tale of misery given a solid rock beat on record that becomes a solemn monologue in concert hinging on a lone man bellowing “hallelujah” to anyone who will listen.

On record, the “hallelujah” is set in the distance, as if its delivery is not necessarily coming from the song’s protagonist; strength of the song is that both instances work remarkably well. Album’s riveting opener and closer, “Easy Now” and “Ordinary Girl,” remain good old-school rock ‘n’ roll in the acoustic setting.

Kate Walsh; Freddie Stevenson

Hotel Cafe, Los Angeles; 140 capacity; $10


Presented inhouse. Reviewed March 19, 2008.

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