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  • Writer's pictureRachel Sellick

Live Review: Kelley Swindall @ The Duke's Head, Highgate

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

I have seen the force that is Kelley Swindall play at various venues since the summer and her energy and storytelling skills are unrivalled. No one tells a tale quite like she. Refreshingly, she takes you back to musicians of old; talking and singing her way through her intricate and detailed lyrics with exemplary guitar strumming skills which all add to the show. She is a one woman band; whether it be foot tapping, or commanding her harmonica with that wry smile and glint in her eye.

She has played in listening venues where I can hear a pin drop and spaces which are vibrant and riotous but still she captivates the audiences with her stories of love, murder, adultery, promiscuity and ambition and what can occur after a good old fashioned drinking session. These themes are all thrown into the pot with a hint of sarcasm, straight talking honesty, and gumption that only Kelley can deliver. Stage presence and personality are her forte.

Hailing from Georgia, but living in New York and about to relocate to Nashville, Tennessee, Kelley is no stranger to travel or committing to her craft. She has been doing this for a long time, and you can tell. I got to interview her for Belles and Gals at The Green Note in Camden where she was supported by the sensational songwriter Jack Valero and the superbly dark and dulcet tones of Evan Williams and she was exquisite in her delivery of her style of the Folk and Blues genre. She was also engaging, deeply knowledgeable, vivacious and humble. I have since seen her play the Duke’s Head Honky Tonk Venue in Highgate and The Holmfirth Tavern where she continued to enchant her audience.

She knows what she wants to say and she isn’t afraid to say it; evident in her performances of ‘I Aint For You, You Aint For Me’ and ‘You Can Call Me Darlin’ If You Want’, the title track of her album released in 2020, which is outstanding. Both songs are very different in terms of style yet similar are their perspectives on driven women who know what they will and won’t settle for and their ongoing quest to accept who they are. Her covers of ‘Jolene’ and “Fairytale of New York’ summoned up the feelings of nostalgia and she had us all singing in various frequencies of union, but Kelley didn’t let us get too familiar; she still imparted her spin on the classics and elaborated on the original storylines such as her rendition of Mclean’s ‘American Pie’.

‘He Ain’t You’, ‘The Murder Song’ and ‘We're Gonna Die’ are all hard hitting in their own ways by means of paradox. You are either forgiving Kelley's protagonist their sins, crying into your whiskey with her or nodding in agreement at the fragility of life. Her musicianship is so detailed and she carries the torch of the greats such as Cash, Lynn, Williams and Dylan in her eclectic style and earthy, gritty authenticity.

She has already catapulted into the UK scene with two tours and looks to be returning in 2023; keep an eye out for this lady; you won’t hear anyone else quite like her.

Set List (The Duke's Head, Highgate)

I’m on Fire


Spring Street Drive

Refuse To Be Blue

Minglewood Blues

I Ain’t For You, You Ain’t For Me

He Ain’t You

The Murder Song

That’s Life

We're Gonna Die

The Day The Music Died

You can Call Me Darlin’ If You Want

Fairytale of New York


Review written by Jess T


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