Andy Brown, along with special guests Ursidae and Steven Beddall of Wooden Horseman, led us on a journey back to a time where nightclubs were smoky and folk music was a movement.
Climbing up the creaky, carpeted steps of the Railway Club, the clock seemed to rewind. It may have had something to do with the fact that the venue itself has been a popular watering hole since the 1930s, but on Sunday night, the air of nostalgia was mostly due to the musical acts on the bill.
New Brunswick singer-songwriter Andy Brown was in town, making the last stop of his West Coast tour in Vancouver. The crowd was small but filled the Railway Club’s intimate round-table and stage layout—a perfect setting for the musician’s soft folk rock style. As a three-time International Songwriting Competition Finalist and an official Taylor Guitars and Sennheiser Microphones artist, Brown is certainly accomplished. Perhaps even more admirable, however, is his sincere character: though he was the night’s main event, the singer sat discreetly amongst the audience to watch the sets of those playing before him, clapping heartily and expressing genuine sentiments of enjoyment. Brown’s humility set the tone for a purely acoustic evening that paid its respects to the traditions of bluegrass.
Ursidae started things off, taking the stage wordlessly and delicately plucking at her guitar strings. Upon realizing the show had begun, the audience settled and it wasn’t long before they were captivated by the singer’s hauntingly beautiful voice. Peppered with adorably awkward banter, her performance was effortless, subtle and all at once powerful. “One Year Long,” a pretty little love song that mirrored nature’s seasons with the stages of anguished love, showcased Ursidae’s songwriting chops and had a Joni Mitchell quality to it. Paying tribute to her own generation, a cover of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” was made so much her own that it was completely unrecognizable to the original until the familiar chorus hit.
Steven Beddall, lead singer and songwriter of indie-rock outfit Wooden Horseman, was next. His set was earthy and rich, ranging from impressive covers of Muddy Waters, Neil Young and Tom Waits to his own brand of ramble-tamble folk. “Virginia (American Girl),” from Wooden Horseman’s self-titled EP, was stripped-down and mesmerizing, sounding like a hazy summers night, if that was a sound. Halfway through his show, Beddall called up a friend named Joel to join him onstage for some Cajun-inspired blues. Longhaired and barefoot, Joel was like a Woodstock Jesus and his deeper tone harmonized magically with Beddall’s falsetto croon on “Voodoo Queen.” One of the highlights of Beddall’s performance was his evocative rendition of Peg Leg Joe’s “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd,” a mythical song about leading slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.
Connecting with the crowd was clearly of upmost importance to Brown: each song in his near two-hour set was given a backstory, multiple sing-alongs were encouraged and there was plenty of witty repartee. Brown’s eloquence, paired with the intimacy of the venue, created a unique and personal experience between himself and his audience. He played mostly tracks from his latest record, Tinman, a few new ones and executed a magnificent cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.” A technical blip cut out his guitar microphone during his second song but the singer didn’t skip a beat—he simply unplugged, jumped down to the floor and delivered a raw version of “Echoes.” If possible, it made him even more endearing.
Brown’s songbook had all the markings of a James Taylor student with wistful numbers like “Fire Moon” and “Wait and See,” the latter of which his voice went from achy breath to brawny roar while his fingers danced along the acoustic guitar. Brown smiled sheepishly as the crowd cheered enthusiastically.
After an encore (demanded by the chanting audience), Brown walked off the stage and thanked each person individually for coming to the show. An older gentleman of about 80, overwhelmed with warm nostalgia from the evening’s lineup, hurried up to Brown and clasped his hands over the singer’s. “I wish my wife could have been here,” the man said. “She would have loved you.”