Brooklyn native Nell Bryden was in town to promote her new album Shake The Tree, and delight fans with a belter of a gig at London’s Borderline.

Sporting a Ramones t-shirt (how very New York!), a tighter than tight black skirt and chunky killer heels, the buxom Nell – all bubbly and bouncy – took place behind the rose-garland decorated mic and greeted her audience. Guitar strapped around her shoulders, she introduced her first number ‘Mercy On Me’ by explaining that this is a song about a guy who was on death row (and has since departed this planet). When Nell had heard about the story, it inspired her to write the song. While the lyrical content might be sombre one can’t deny the fact that musically, the song simply sounds gorgeous.

The perfect ‘dating’ song arrived with her next number, the uplifting ‘Tonight’ – a heartwarming tune that will appeal to all ladies looking forward to a great night out, with a dash of romance thrown in the mixer. Nell’s banter in between her performance was both witty and highly entertaining, engaging her fans. The gal sure loves to talk, and equally she loves to tell tales of her native New York, such as how the song ‘Downtown Lullaby’ came together. Sleepless and in the mood to compose a new track, Nell had to remind herself that her neighbours in her building were already asleep, hence she played her guitar oh so gently and whispered the lyrics oh so softly. Hence the word ‘lullaby’ in the song’s title.

Nell’s enormous voice is perfectly suited for her choice of musical style – a hybrid of jazz, blues and American roots from past and present, but mainly from the past. With just her guitar for accompaniment, her voice was at times so strong that I was certain even passers-by on the nearby Charing Cross Road could hear it. After ‘Couldn’t Love You More’ and ‘What Does It Take’ Nell performed the first single release from the new album, the exquisite ‘Buildings And Treetops’.
Another New York story is ‘Sirens’ and while it turned out to be one of the most powerful and beautiful numbers of the evening, it was also the saddest. Nell wrote it after the events of 9/11. Let me rephrase it… she didn’t write it exactly after 9/11 but, in her own words, it took her almost ten years to get the courage together to memorise her own haunting memories of that terrible day. And who can blame her? I, for one, am glad she decided to pen such truly emotional number, and the rest of the audience seemed to have agreed. Pass the hanky, please!

“Let’s lighten up the mood again, shall we?” quipped Nell after the last chords had faded, and promptly tuned into the title track of her current album, ‘Shake The Tree’. The line ‘shake that tree till all the fruit come down’ is actually a slice of advice from Nell’s father, an artist, after Nell discovered a painting in the attic depicting an apple tree. The advice means that Nell should go after what she wants in life and not wasting too much time trying to get it. No doubt she took that advice to heart!

One thing for sure: Miss Bryden doesn’t like to dwell in misery too much, no matter how heavy the topic. Here’s a real good-time gal who seemingly feels at home wherever she is, not even her hectic schedule of recording, touring, radio shows and what have you manage to put a damper on her stamina and energy. Or does it have something to do with all that ‘snortin’ backstage… Only kidding, this was an ongoing joke running throughout the evening, encouraged by some of her fans.

For the last few numbers, which also included ‘Not Like Loving You’ and ‘Second Time Around’, Nell was joined on stage by keyboard player X. Final number of the evening was a cover version, namely ‘Learn To Fly’ by the Grammy-award winning Foo Fighters, and let’s just say she did them proud!

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening with the lovely Nell Bryden, who hopefully will get to grace larger venues soon – as the headlining act.

© Photo by Alan Harrison

(Please read my interview with Nell in our Music-News ‘Interviews’ section).