In one of his last performances of the year, Brent Shuttleworth exhibited the true definition of singer-songwriter to New Yorkers at Joe’s Pub Sunday night. Playing a nine-song set, Shuttleworth infused a mix of songs from his debut album, Witness, as well as some covers and a few new tracks, each well received by the packed room.
Taking the stage shortly after 9:30 with first song of the night, “When We Leave This World Behind,” Shuttleworth began alone on acoustic guitar before the rest of his band joined in. With his emotionally-filled lyrics quickly capturing the audience’s attention, as each word was sung you couldn’t help but get the feeling that he was wearing his heart on his sleeve.
While Shuttleworth’s guitar playing recalls early John Mayer, it’s his lyrics and vocals that set him apart. With vocals comparable to that of Ray LaMontagne but deeper with a smoother vibe and lyrics that bear his soul to the listener, Shuttleworth continues to stand out from the crowd.
Second track of the night was “When I Reach California,” currently my favorite song. A song about moving on, Shuttleworth said it also deals with “recognizing the realities of a certain situation and being proactive about doing something about it,” which for many is tougher than it seems. Singing, “You turned your back on me when I needed you/You buried me just like a funeral/I'm so sure right now that you never knew/What I had given up to be with you,” he really gave the audience the story behind his heartfelt lyrics. “When I Reach California” accompanied stellar harmonizing from his band as well as a solid instrumental interlude up to the fade out of the song.
Shortly after, he told the crowd about the inspiration behind “Witness,” the title of his next song. Having worked in South Africa helping with TAC, a campaign for treatment for people with HIV and reducing HIV infections through education and workshops, one day he was invited to a church service by his coworker. At the service, an American preacher from Kentucky was talking on the pulpit as a huge American flag was shown behind him, asking for each person’s weekly earnings to build satellite churches and missions for their communities.
Disheartened by the situation, Shuttleworth explained his surprise to the warmth between the community as they gave hugs to one another afterwards while saying, “You are my witness.” As if they were saying, “You’re a witness to me, to my life, to my existence.”
“The idea to have someone there for you has stuck with me,” he said. “And that’s the name of the next song and the title for my album.” Singing, “All of the nights alone/I never felt my soul was worth having/Won’t let one more day go by/Allowing myself not to be forgiven/When I’m broken/And I’m fading/I need a witness/When I’m beaten/And I’m bleedin’/I need a witness,” he aptly got his point across.
In addition to incredibly solid covers of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” with featured vocalist Amber Rubarth and the Cranberries’ “Linger” with Declan Bennett, Shuttleworth’s set entailed breathtaking ballads like “Satellite” and “Helpless,” a song he told the audience is not only for people in love but for people that want to be in love. “It’s a connection I made; describing the song and the state of being helpless to someone else, recognizing the fact that people take advantage of that vulnerability,” Shuttleworth said of his song. “Regardless of how much you give to a situation there’s no guarantee of any sort of return, in that vulnerability there’s that risk.”
The state of being helpless and vulnerable can be a very positive statement to be in, he explained. “It’s about being able to let your guard down and that state and relationship when you’re able to be vulnerable to someone else and liking the idea of being in love and wanting to be in that place.”
Another relatively new song, “Overcome,” Shuttleworth told the audience is a crowd participatory song. “Everyone is welcome to join in. You can clap, dance, get up onstage if you want too.” Definitely the most upbeat of the night, he had the audience liven up and sing along throughout the chorus.
“Stay” may just have been the most heartfelt song performed during his set. A song written for his late grandfather, Shuttleworth said his grandfather not only encouraged him to play music, “but to follow things that I believed in and things I wanted to do.” Lines like, “All we wanted was to be enough and that’s what we are” left a lasting impression.
Just when the room thought his set was over as the lights went on and music started playing from the speakers, Shuttleworth surprised the crowd by entering the floor between the couches and tables closest to the stage with his and Declan Bennett’s acoustic cover of “Linger” by the Cranberries. An intimate gesture, all in attendance clapped and sang along word for word.
As the year draws to a close and so does his performances, Shuttleworth promises more tour dates throughout the winter and spring. And, from his stellar set and the crowd at Joe’s Pub his fans will only grow with him.
Be sure to check out Brent's MySpace if you haven't yet and watch his video for "When I Reach California" below!