Katharine Hepburn famously said of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that he gave her class and she gave him sex appeal – and something similar applies to the duo of guitarist Martin Taylor and singer Alison Burns. They each bring something quite different to the partnership and that contrast is what makes it work. While the virtuoso guitarist adds colour and finesse to the double act, his singing daughter-in-law brings a warmth to the proceedings and makes Taylor’s technically dazzling playing more accessible. (Indeed, his numerous solo numbers almost seemed to belong to a different gig.)
That was certainly very evident at their Oran Mor concert last night, part of the West End Festival. When the pair were onstage together, they dished up some lovely duets. Burns, who has gained in confidence and presence since the last time I heard her (three years ago), has a velvety voice, tinged with Julie London-esque breathiness but considerably more assured.
Like London she doesn’t mess with the melody, and instead keeps it simple, paying attention to the lyrics and meaning – though only a few of the songs last night had any real emotional depth; moving readings of Stevie Wonder’s If It’s Magic and Sasha Distel’s The Good Life being notable exceptions. Her sugary Sophisticated Lady just served as a nostalgic reminder of Annie Ross’s gutsy, heart-wrenching take on the similarly themed Lush Life on the same stage four months ago …
* First published in The Scotsman, June 16 2012.