This gig, a debut for Kyla Brox and her guitarist husband Danny Blomeley, was a long one in the making and worth the wait. I had seen Kyla in her early teens with her dad Victor and more recently with her band at Scarborough.
The evening kicked off with a slow blues, When We Are Alone, which showcased Kyla’s soulful voice and Danny’s sultry picking. Change Your Mind had an old world quality about it and the added benefit of Kyla on flute, hitting high notes that didn’t seem feasible. In The Morning and Bluesman’s Child were autobiographical, charting a life on the road with its peaks and troughs and illustrating Kyla’s and Danny’s writing skills, as heard on their latest album, Power & Glory.
The first set concluded with the Etta James classic I’d Rather Go Blind, drawing a sigh of pleasure from the audience. This is a song to be felt as well as sung and Kyla had all the subtle nuances of the original combined with Beyonce’s version. It was the best cover I have heard – she lived the song and Danny’s accompaniment was sensitively delivered. The reaction of the crowd was a standing ovation.
Talking to Kyla before the gig and in the interval, she mentioned influences Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie and Jo Ann Kelly, and more recently Susan Tedeschi. We were looking at a DVD of European blues tours in the late 60s, one featuring Sugar Pie DeSanto and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Kyla met DeSanto, who she said was larger than life and revelation.
They started the second set with the title track of Pain And Glory, which could act as a journal for the last two years of their careers: They won the UK Blues Challenge in 2018, the European Blues Challenge in 2019 and got to the semis in Memphis. Another of Kyla’s favourites is Nina Simone and she chose Do I Move You as an illustration, starting with a haunting flute intro. Her version was slower that the original and the better for it as the enunciation of every syllable was heartfelt.
To my mind there is not a better vocalist around on the circuit now. In Memphis the band went to the local church where the pastor is the Reverend Al Green and Kyla gave a soulful rendition of Let’s Stay Together. At Crawley her conclusion of the number took her vocals to new heights. Going back to her roots, Don’t Mess With My Man – written by Dorothy Labosterie and covered by the likes of Irma Thomas in the late 50s – sounded like a song that Bessie Smith would have delivered.
This was one of those gigs that ended too soon. However, it meant we got an encore. What better than Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen? The song soared and filled the studio and at the end there was reverential silence followed by an audible gasp, spontaneous applause and a standing ovation. Some gigs transcend your expectations and live in the mind forever – truly stunning.
Kyla Brox duo. The Hawth, Crawley, West Sussex, 14 February 2020