“Country music is for everyone: it’s about telling stories, it’s about community,” grins Daniel Gerard Breland (or Breland as he’s known), midway through his set. And he’s right. The self-described ‘Black guy from Jersey’ has taken the hip-hop country fusion that won over Londoners at this year’s C2C Festival and amplified it for his show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom. “This is the biggest headline show I’ve ever played in my career,” he says, humbled by the cheers he receives. Breland knows how to make his mark in the capital.
Breland @ Electric Ballroom
There’s a buoyant, happy energy through much of his set as Breland unselfconsciously dad-dances and jumps through his hour onstage. “One of my favourite things to do is collaborate with other artists,” he tells us before launching into High Horse, a track that dips its toes into funk and disco. Genre boundaries don’t mean much to him, though he always returns to his beloved country. Natural, his homage to Shania Twain’s Man I Feel Like a Woman, is hip-swinging fun and causes a square dance to break out at the back of the room. However with his soulful voice, it’s clear that while he lives for his music, he isn’t restricted by it. Thick, his love song to large ladies, shows off his flawless RnB tones which could be compared to R. Kelly in his heyday. On the guitar solos, men and women drop down to dance to the tinny country twang. Thick shows a wit and sweetness to his attitude to women, which he carries through to the new song Thirsty. It’s a fun, cheeky, chat up line song with playful jumps and starts which he jumps through like spring-loaded.
While the 28-year-old radiates positivity and exuberance with his every move, there was far more depth to his set than you would first expect, following the release of his debut LP Cross Country a year ago now. After popping on some strawberry-framed sunglasses (“We got some strawberry glasses cos we’re gonna sing a 90s cover for you,” he explains), he and his support artist, Avery Anna, sing a beautiful version of Deana Carter’s Strawberry Wine. The song instantly expands the space with its wide intention and impact. Women remove their cowboy boots and dance in their socks. As the last chords fade, a fan is brought onstage and proposes to his girlfriend of a decade. She runs to him and folds him into a hug. “Did….did she say yes?” Breland panics, then apologises that his next song will be Happy Song. It’s a breakup song filled with misty night drive emptiness. The bass kicks in as the character restarts and the tone shifts to his acceptance through the song’s narrative.
With his band offstage, the New Jersey native explains that “you only know if you have a great song…if you strip away everything and can just sing it with one voice and one instrument”. Extra Mile, the song he performs with only guitar accompaniment, is his letter to his future self and dedicated to his grandmother, who recently passed away. It’s what Ed Sheeran tries to do but with the tenderness of a beautiful, purposeful bruise. However, it’s Cross Country that really hits us. It’s his autobiographical story of feeling like an outsider but becoming a universal echo in our broken hearts. We sing along reverently as the guitar accelerates and a stomp rises. It’s got an added sense of personal achievement at his biggest show to date across an ocean from where he was born. Happy tears run down his face and he pushes them away, astounded by our response. “That is the most beautiful thing that has ever happened at one of my shows,” he admits, and we believe him.
The only way to proceed from there is a victory lap through his biggest hits to finish the night off. Someone hands him a beer during Beers On Me which he downs in one gulp. For the few minutes of Cowboy Don’t we’re all cowboys in a honky tonk enjoying a sizzling guitar solo. Praise The Lord brings a huge post-modern revival energy to the Ballroom as we all wave our hands and give him our spirit fingers. Of course, Throw It Back, his collaboration with Keith Urban, is the big ticket we’ve been waiting for. It feels like the culmination of his personal journey. However, we couldn’t leave without the song that made him a star, debut single My Truck, with its gorgeous reworked swamp rhythm. His versatile voice taps into a communal fantasy of cowboy life, and when it comes to the crunch we behave like rock fans as his whooping twists into a soul wail. We spread out into the early Camden evening full of the joys of country life. We revel in our appreciation for what rising stars like Breland can bring to the genre through his own innovation.
Breland will be supporting Shania Twain on her upcoming UK and Ireland dates:
14th – Glasgow, OVO Hydro
16th – London, The O2
17th – London, The O2
19th – Dublin, 3Arena
20th – Dublin, 3Arena
22nd – Glasgow, OVO Hydro
23rd – Glasgow, OVO Hydro
25th – Manchester, AO Arena
26th – Birmingham, Utilita Arena Birmingham
28th – Leeds, First Direct Arena
Live review of Breland @ Electric Ballroom on 9th September 2023 by Kate Allvey. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.