Jessica Mitchell, Bianca Bernardi, Missy Bauman, Karen Thornton, Brenda Brown, Katie Bulley at Hamilton’s Gasworks

A Review of the Hamilton Music Awards All-Girl Vocal Showcase at Gasworks
May 2015

By Glen T Brown

Six ways of being beautiful. Six ways of singing. Six ways of holding a crowd in the palm of your hand. Six styles of songwriting and presentation. Six women, and each one a perfect performer overflowing with talent, charm, and good taste.

That’s what we were treated to last night at the “All Girl” Hamilton Music Awards Showcase Concert at Hamilton’s new Gasworks venue.

Katie Bulley, nominee for Female Artist of the Year

Bianca Bernardi’s selection of original songs was equally impressive and was matched by her expressive and powerful voice. Best wishes in her bid for Female Vocalist of the Year!

What a rich evening of great songs and voices! Four women — Jessica Mitchell, Missy Bauman, Katie Bulley, Bianca Bernardi — performed as solo acts with guitar only. Each completely held their own at the microphone and presented thoughtful and well-crafted songs. I was especially impressed by headliner Katie Bulley in her light-hearted and beautiful presentation. She made use of her harmonica-in-the-holder, finding just the right spots to interject it in between phrases of her distinctly powerful and crystalline voice. I enjoyed the variety, content, and delivery of her songs and am looking forward to hearing her sing again.

Bianca Bernardi, nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year, and Pop Recording of the Year. Photo by Mike Highfield.

As the show progressed I was often reminded of the the power of a great song when sung from the heart. It’s that moment when the lyric hits your brain and the sweet melody hits your heart — and shows you a new way of feeling. I had that experience several times during Jessica Mitchell’s set. That girl has got some major songwriting chops happening! Her lyrics have that way of painting pictures and using metaphor to describe life. Favourite song? “This Record Saved My Life.”

Jessica Mitchell photo by Mike Highfield

Missy Bauman has grown in confidence since I last saw her at the Hamilton Music Awards in 2012 where she was given the Best New Artist award. I was left with a new appreciation, once again, of her unique ability to shape a melody. Just when you’re expecting a note to go down, she bends it upward — things like that — are what made the impression. I’m also convinced that there is no pretence possible for this young performer. It was honest, and she put everything out there.

Missy Bauman photo by Mike Highfield

Karen Thornton, along with writing very cool original songs, created her own arrangements with back-up vocals, and her arrangements made room for improvised solos by trumpet and guitar. The Karen Thornton group had a full, jazzy, and classy sound that started the night off on the right foot.

Karen Thornton, nominated for Jazz Recording of the Year. Photo by Mike Highfield.

The Gasworks audience reached its top numbers when Brenda Brown and her trio took the stage and dipped into the rich North American songbook of jazz and show standards. Brown’s voice possesses a rare flexibility which allows her to easily cross over from jazz to pop, and her lovely rendition of Nora Jones’ Don’t Know Why was especially sweet. Ross Wooldridge, Glen Brown, and Olivia Brown worked well together backing her up. Wooldridge’s nimble fingers danced happily on the Gasworks’ grand piano which was well-tuned to the task.

Brenda Brown, nominated for Jazz Recording of the Year. Photo by Mike Highfield

The Gasworks is gaining fans as the word gets around about the quality of the room, and the pleasant vibe of the place. With plenty of parking on site, proximity to James Street restaurants, and good acoustics, Gasworks is an ideal spot for an intimate concert seating 50–100. Just watch out for the posts!

Best wishes to the Hamilton Music Award nominees who took part in last night’s showcase. Brenda Brown and Karen Thornton are nominated for Jazz Recording of the Year. Katie Bulley and Bianca Bernardi are nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year, Katie’s album is nominated for Best Album Art, and Bianca is also nominated for Pop Recording of the Year.

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