Gig review: Amythyst Kiah, Edinburgh

At the City Art Centre, Edinburgh. Picture: Geograph

At the City Art Centre, Edinburgh. Picture: Geograph

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Amythyst Kiah seemed somewhat amazed by the turnout at this second of her Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival shows upstairs in the City Art Centre.

Amythyst Kiah | City Art Centre, Edinburgh | Rating ****

An odd but entirely comfortable setting for low-key, table-seated gigs (and one with an atmospheric open window onto the city), it’s the perfect location for an artist at Kiah’s stage in her UK career. Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and now based in the state’s Johnson City, she’s not well-known here, but gathering enough interest that the room was full.

In truth, she has rising talent written all over her. A 29-year-old with a striking shock of hair and a huskily expressive voice which modulates between strength and tenderness, Kiah strides comfortably across jazz, blues and even country styles. A classical guitar player since high school with a degree in bluegrass music, she was accompanied here only by her own acoustic guitar and a conversational style which, she readily admitted, tends to wander off on unnecessary tangents.

Oddly, her most commanding performances were on the songs she interpreted, rather than the ones she had written herself. She strode through the mournful, rootsy country blues of her Doomed to Roam and Wildebeest in assured style, but her voice lent truly resonant new life to Vera Hall’s Trouble So Hard and Another Man Done Gone, the rich bluegrass of the Carter Family’s Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow Tree, and – most unlikely of the lot – Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead, her chief childhood influence.

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