Kurt Wagner/Mary Lorson: London Bloomsbury Theatre

These songs sound as towering even with just an acoustic guitar and some weird, taped sound effects...

Like a warm snug in a welcoming pub, Mary Lorson lures us in with tales of love, heartbreak – and her mum. Now forging ahead with a solo career after the collapse of her band Madder Rose, Lorson comes on like a cross between Emmylou Harris and PJ Harvey – plenty of surface sweetness, but underneath there are inner demons she’s busy exorcising. The likes of ‘On The Outside’ and ‘A Thing Or Two’ are fragile, incandescent beauties which prove her songwriting knack hasn’t deserted her, even if she’s now going down a more dusty trail rather than recreate Madder Rose’s Velvet Underground-isms.

Kurt Wagner is currently basking in more acclaim than he can shake a shitty stick at. The success of his band (and it is his band) Lambchop’s ‘Nixon’ album has placed him in his rightful position as one of alt-country’s leading lights – most of tonight’s crowd would quite happily slap the label ‘legend’ onto his baseball cap. You only have to hear how darn quiet it is in here, a hushed reverence is awarded only to those who have earned it in cynical old London town. Oh, and they laugh at all his jokes.

But has Wagner earned his kudos? Well, you only have to hear ‘Nixon”s opener, the fragile ‘The Old Gold Shoe’, stripped of it’s 14-strong band, to realise that these songs sound as towering even with just an acoustic guitar and some weird, taped sound effects. So far, so good. When he breaks into his Curtis Mayfield falsetto on ‘You Masculine You’ he is so astonished at the awed reaction that he can’t help but chuckle at himself self-consciously. And, of course, we chuckle along. And when he rolls out his tale of porch voyeurism that is ‘The Nashville Parent’ it’s hard to believe that it’s being heard in an austere London theatre – the owls and the rodents feel like they’re very close by, watching over us. And it’s sunny.

Life feels good, it really does. Even if it’s not our own.

Alan Woodhouse