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Review: Charles Esten Live at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall

Charles Esten recently celebrated the release of his debut album Love Ain’t Pretty, a polished and undeniably charming set of country numbers delving into ballads, slick mid-tempos, and the odd rousing up-tempo. The star has built up a strong following thanks to his role on ABC’s cult series Nashville – not to mention impressive turns on projects such as Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Netflix drama Outer Banks. However, it is the music that takes centre stage at Esten’s Love Ain’t Pretty tour which made its first UK stop at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall.

Esten’s debut album gets a full outing throughout the night, with the musician accompanied on stage by Andy Lucas on keys and backing vocals. Esten tackles a guitar, harmonica and vocals with a smooth professionalism, delivering an accomplished set of around an hour and forty-five minutes.

Opening track Love Ain’t Pretty provides a quietly anthemic, sing-a-long start to the evening, with Esten’s song-writing finesse shining in its ability to capture a blend of poignancy and heartbreak with a hint of hopefulness. The star has a richness to his vocals and an endearing stage presence, allowing him to craft an inclusive and welcoming environment in what could have been a somewhat austere venue. Following up with numbers such as the optimistic A Little Right Now and the breezily, nostalgic One Good Move, Esten stirs up a feel-good energy. The slick-country pop of When Love Ain’t Love has a car windows down summer day energy that Esten manages to summon in a live setting, and even with a two man band on stage, Esten and Lucas manage to capture the same musical magic as the album’s more produced moments.

Esten’s original tracks translate into the live setting with ease, showcasing an impressive musical versatility. Rockier number I Ain’t swaggers with a high-energy country attitude, whilst Esten is equally comfortable on the elegantly emotional album closer Somewhere in the Sunshine. The star brings a Springsteen style rock edge and charisma to the powerhouse Down the Road, allowing his raw, passionate vocals to shine.

Throughout the night Esten peppers a number of well-pitched covers and rarities into the evening. A cover of The Bay City Rollers’ Saturday Night proved a hit with the Edinburgh audience – dominated by swooning ladies of a ‘certain age’ – compelled to their feet. Whilst an effective cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence with Esten’s opening act and future son-in-law, country artist Charlie Greene (‘Betcha’) is impressively poignant. The Pittsburgh-born star sprinkles a number of unreleased cuts and rarities into the evening including highlight One Whiskey Away – an ode to being one drink away from a potential mistake.

The eager audience responded well to Esten’s selection of Nashville tracks which he brings to the tour. Former Connie Britton duet No One Will Ever Love You, from the genius mind of T Bone Burnett, gets an enthusiastic response with Esten capturing the poignancy of the number. A heart-warming version of the show’s A Life That’s Good brings the set to a feel-good closer.

Throughout the evening, Charles Esten’s showcases an impressive musical skillset – as well as an endearing and welcoming stage presence. Love Ain’t Pretty’s tracks shine in a live setting, with relatable lyrics and catchy melodies resonating well with the audience. Esten’s vocals and showmanship brilliantly convey the rich emotion in all numbers from anthemic ballads to upbeat country-pop tunes resulting in a truly enjoyable evening of country music.

Charles Esten’s 2024 UK/European Tour Dates – tickets on sale here:

Sat., 20 Apr. – Usher Hall | Edinburgh, UK
Mon., 22 Apr. – Royal Concert Hall | Glasgow, UK
Wed., 24 Apr. – The Glasshouse | Gateshead, UK
Fri., 26 Apr. – Palladium | London, UK
Sat., 27 Apr. – O2 Academy | Bristol, UK
Mon., 29 Apr. – Lowry Lyric Theatre | Salford, UK
Tue., 30 Apr. – Town Hall | Birmingham, UK
Thu., 2 May – Tivoli/Vredenburg – Grote Zaal | Utrecht, Netherlands
Fri., 3 May – Fabrik | Hamburg, Germany
Sat., 4 May – Im Wizemann Halle | Stuttgart, Germany
Mon., 6 May – Circus Krone | Munich, Germany
Tue., 7 May – Carlswerk Victoria | Cologne, Germany
Thu., 9 May – DR Studio 2 | Copenhagen, Denmark
Fri., 10 May – Kulturkirken Jakob | Oslo, Norway  |  Instagram  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  YouTube  |  TikTok

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