Charlie Worsham, The Slaughtered Lamb, April 19 2023

Virtuosity will never get old. That was the main conclusion from a relaxed 90-minute set by Charlie Worsham the evening before he returned to Nashville after a week of shows supporting Ward Thomas.

With mandolin and acoustic guitar, he astonished a crowd no greater than 80 people in a listening room-type space in Farringdon which is perfect for visiting acts to hang loose and press the flesh with big fans. Always be on the lookout for this sort of event, which back in Music City makes a killing with tourists; in the UK, Charlie said, our applause filters through the room better than a one-shot whoop from an American audience member.

After a fine support slot from the Swindon-born acoustic singer Ann Liu Cannon, who played a song based on the Chinese proverb ‘clever rabbits burrow three holes’, Charlie bounded onstage but first had to deal with an inevitable technical issue. Once solved, he proved he could have held us spellbound even without amplification.

Both Hang On To That and the first verse of a new song called Poster Child make reference to rock’n’roll music which so enraptured a young Charlie, who ‘saw my first naked woman!’ at a Rolling Stones show. Fun fact: he used to be in a band called Kingbilly with John Osborne, which is like having Lennon and McCartney as the main songwriters in the same band.

We came for the melodies and stayed for the guitar solos. When Charlie wrote Fist Through This Town ‘seven years ago’, his own prestidigitation was not the zeitgeist. Despite an album and an EP, he has mostly worked as a sideman – for Dierks Bentley and Old Crow Medicine Show – to ensure money goes into the ‘Gabe Worsham College Fund’. Inevitably, his son has inspired songs like the majestic and classic-sounding Grow Old, while set opener Kiss Like You Dance is fantastic and warm, like most Charlie Worsham compositions.

As for Short Grass, may I be the first to say it’s a country music version of Stacy’s Mom but with better jokes. Both those last two tracks will be on a forthcoming set of collaborations, more about which we’ll know in autumn, but he did drop two hints when he alluded to two A-List stars who recognise Charlie’s talent.

Among old chestnuts – Cut Your Groove, Mississippi In July and the carpe-diem song Young To See – Charlie played us some more new tracks, at least one of which ‘may never be recorded’. That’d be a pity because his extended metaphor of a lady as a magician full of sleight of hand and tricks, set to an arrangement with a fistful of chords, deserves a wide audience. Southern By The Grace of God (‘you can’t out-country me!’) and Tools of the Trade were among five or six tunes played on the mandolin, as Charlie refreshed songs he’d been playing for a decade on the road. It was a thrill to see his fingers close up.

As well as faithfully plucking Vince Gill’s High Lonesome Sound, he played a tune from 40 years ago about a little red Corvette, even hitting the falsetto part near the end. During his own Take Me Drunk, he admitted nicking a solo from I Feel Fine by The Beatles, and in response to a keen heckler, he offered an off-script anecdote about Warren Zevon which managed to have a dig at Kid Rock for good measure. Rather than a recital or a concert, this should really have been billed An Evening With Charlie Worsham. Indeed, he had played that Prince song at his famous Every Damn Monday jam.

During an extended encore which felt like a second set, he brought out the gorgeous Believe In Love at the request of Laura Cooney from Entertainment Focus, as well as his ‘stoner gospel’ tune about rolling up ‘a J just in case today’s the day’. It was, as Charlie reminded us, ‘4/20 tomorrow’, the national day of marijuana consumption. If Charlie Worsham were grass, he’d make even the most expert joint-roller take a break.

And he didn’t even play Want Me Too. To misquote Prince, Charlie’s got too many never-hits. In a fair universe, this man would be an A-List star, but I think he’ll accept his role as the next in line after Marty Stuart and Vince Gill, a future Guardian of the Music City Galaxy.

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