Sugar & The Hi-Lows @ Royal Albert Hall
Nashville-based blues rock duo Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup – AKA Sugar & The Hi-lows – played an opening slot at London’s Royal Albert Hall for Country music starlet Kacey Musgraves’ headline show as part of the Kensington venue’s Albert Sessions initiative.
Coming together as two solo artists who were writing together, it took an idea from Dabbs to begin writing songs with soul and dance influences, which ended up working well for the pair. They took it to the next level by discarding their true “normal acoustic, introspective” personalities and adopting flamboyant and adventurous stage personas.
Their self-titled debut studio album appeared in 2012 to positive reviews and they have since both toured that record and continued with their solo projects as well as both contributing to Dabbs’ Ten out of Tenn singer-songwriter collective, which he started with wife Kristen in 2005.
2015 saw the release of follow-up album High Roller that the rootsy Southern duo have taken to the road in glorious, glammed-up style.
“Good evening, we’re Sugar & The Hi-Lows from Nashville Tennessee”, said Jackson Mississippi native Dabbs, before the duo dove straight into debut album track See It For Yourself, the soulful upbeat tune immediately invoking foot-tapping from the Royal Albert Hall crowd. The pair, backed by Kacey Musgraves’ own touring band, tore immediately into the upbeat 1950’s style blues rock song Two Day High.
“It’s an honour to get to be with you tonight” said Stroup. Marvelling at her surroundings, she continued: “this building, this lovely place with so much history.”
“We came a long way from Nashville Tennessee and our parents are here tonight, from Dallas, Texas. They went and got their passports for the first time to come to this show.”
Slowing things down next, Dabbs and Stroup continued their short set with new record track Right Time To Tell You, the Country-tinged ballad perfectly at home in a hall filled with Country music fans.
“Do y’all like Johnny Cash?” Stroup asked of the Kensington crowd, who cheered their approval. “We like him in Nashville. We’re gonna do a little Johnny Cash song if that’s alright. If you know it, please sing with us, we’d really like that” she continued before breaking into upbeat Country classic Jackson, featuring killer guitar licks from Kyle Ryan. Dabbs and Stroup made their way about the stage, trading mics, with Stroup leading the crowd in a clap-along during the musical break in the song and Dabbs shimmying at his mic stand while playing guitar.
“Royal Albert Hall” Dabbs said, looking out in amazement at the packed crowd spread through the tiers of the historic Victorian venue. “So this is a song we wrote and recorded in Nashville”, introducing slow guitar-led bluesy debut album track I’ve Got You Covered.
“Are we feeling good tonight?” Dabbs asked of the crowd. “Well, this is our last song” he said to groans from the audience. “Thank you, we appreciate that disappointment.” The set was closed out with their sophomore release’s title track, the upbeat dance number introduced by Dabbs with a dedication to his father who was in the London audience: “He used to play these Otis Redding records all the time and he’d make these blanket statements like: ‘music’s no good if you can’t dance to it son’ so here we are, we wrote a dance song, it’s called High Roller.”
Dabbs and Stroup embody all that is fun and sassy with retro-fashioned soulful rock and have the personalities to match. High Roller takes the style they achieved so successfully with their eponymous debut to the next level, and is delivered live with the flair and showmanship, even to an unexpectant Kacey Musgraves crowd, that proves that these two should seriously consider this side project for their day jobs.
Sugar & The Hi-lows continue their run of support slots with Kacey Musgraves in Knust and Melkwg before closing out the year with a New Year’s Eve bash for Jack Daniel’s Whiskey in Nashville along with fellow Nashville band Kings of Leon.
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Kalpesh has more music photography up on his Flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate