Danni Nicholls, 229 Great Portland Street, May 27 2022

At the end of a brilliant 80 minutes where she tore through jazzy tunes, Randy Newman, toe-tapping roots music and much more besides, Danni Nicholls from Bedford dedicated her encore performance of Tennessee Waltz to her nan. That’s why performers strive to write songs, learn to interpret others and try to make a mark on the world through song.

Danni’s family – brother, auntie and cousins – had made the trip to Central London to see their Danielle hold a crowd rapt for well over an hour. Having been nominated three times for UK Americana awards, Danni is acclaimed among her peers and deserves all the success she enjoys. The tour for her third album The Melted Morning, of which this was the penultimate of a month’s worth of dates, was due to take place in 2020. Holding her white guitar named Penny, Danni and the two musicians who flanked her – Mark on sideways and upright bass, Sam on guitar and fiddle – played plenty of tracks from the album.

They opened with the three-chord campfire singalong Frozen, closely followed by the album’s first track Wild as the Water, which included solid harmonies. The stately Hear Your Voice, which gave the tour its title, was also in the set, albeit without the backing choir and organ which makes it the centrepiece of the new album. It’ll get an airing in Wisconsin when she heads over in August for a festival to play alongside over 100 acts including Gabe Lee, Lizzie No, Dave Hause and The Black Feathers, who will be travelling over from Wales.

Danni is a tremendously accomplished performer, singing in a pure vocal tone and reminding herself to ‘stay in the moment’ rather than overthink or worry. She was both confident and vulnerable, a killer combination for a performer, which made the crowd empathise with the songs she was singing.

Her AMA-UK-nominated second album Mockingbird Lane was also well represented. Danni introduced the title track with a cheery ‘Time for a breakup song!’ Where The Blue Train Goes also had a warm, major-key feel and showed Danni’s musicality, while Sam’s solos were drenched in reverb and created the space over which the vocals could glide.

I especially loved Back To Memphis and Look Up At The Moon. The former is an arms-aloft singalong which got a literal thumbs-up from gig promoter Ray Jones; the latter is a chanson-type jazz tune (‘if you’re lonely, look up at the moon’) reminding the listener of Dream A Little Dream. It was included in the set because Sam could take the guitar part Danni has not yet mastered.

The audience requested Danni’s early track Hey There, Sunshine and she played it happily for the encore. As well as the take on Tennessee Waltz, there was a Randy Newman cover of an underrated drinker’s waltz called Guilty. The extraordinary new song Little Fictions is being bedded into Danni’s set, its double key change making it the most complex arrangement of the evening. The title track of her debut album A Little Redemption closed her set proper, with its ‘little more’ lyrical hook and humming sections reminding the audience that Danni has been this good for a decade. It was a delight to catch her at long last.

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