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Fab Femme Four 7.26.17

As I grew old and experienced enough to realize that in the wider world around me men had been strutting around for centuries acting like the superior gender, entitled as if by divine right to every possible advantage from “I get to be President” to “make me a sandwich,” I began to feel it must be some kind of cosmic joke subsumed under a grand conspiracy. From my point of view, just observationally and objectively speaking over my 50 years, in the vital human capacities of fortitude, patience, compassion, wisdom and just getting s&!% done without drama, women leave men gasping for air by the side of the road. Don’t get me wrong, my brethren include exceptional people and brilliant achievers. But as the old saying goes, women (when given the chance) match the best of us step for step, backward and in high heels. While certain media brutes find talk like that gender treason and the truths behind it threatening to their baby brains, I find women a blessing and a bounty.

That’s more than you wanted to know about me, but it’s what comes rushing to mind as I reflect on our first all female lineup in a long time. It was more a roll of the scheduling dice than any grand design. But what an opportunity it turned out to be to hear and feel a range of expression, style and profound individualism, despite the superficial similarity of four lady songwriters each with her own two to four-piece band. Because being an outstanding artist comes from inside, from people who’ve refined their capacity to share their soul with sound. Here’s four women who’ve achieved that and who are growing fast.

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Laney Jones opened our night with her band The Spirits, and though she’s no teen, her music had a teen spirit, no smells. It was folk rock with a punky half snarl that conjured up for me the Elvis Costello/Nick Lowe collaborations of years gone by. Opener “Do What You Want” had a cool major/minor modulation built in and a pulsing chorus. Jones donned a harmonica rack for “Troubled Mind” that was Dylan going electric over a marching beat. She did a spare, slow and aching “Cold Cold Heart” and closed with a sensational duet vocal with her bass player Tre Hester.

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Katie Pruitt was the night’s youngest artist, the “emerging” artist so-called and the one with just the beginnings of a social following. But that says absolutely nothing about her power, except insofar as the set was among the most surprising and revelatory I’ve seen in ages. She began with an idea that I’d recommend to any artist – setting a mood with instruments and sound only. She tapped her guitar and created a wash of music with her band that at last gave way to a measured opening verse. From there Pruitt’s gifts as a melodist, lyricist and stylist were on vivid display and before the first song was over I was emotionally overwhelmed and making plans to see her headline the Ryman in a few years. There’s a lot of Brandi Carlile in Katie’s approach, in the soaring voice, the storyteller’s truths and the infectious grooves. Her closing love song was so tender and funny and real. I predict one day we’ll be bragging that we booked this future star in the summer of ’17.

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Mary Bragg, like fellow Nashville standout Shawn Camp, makes the most of her co-writing lifestyle. Though I could hear melodic hints of co-author Liz Longley’s influence in opener “Wildfire” it was indisputably a Mary Bragg song. And that implies infectious, smart and resonant. “Bayou Lullaby” was a slow smoky waltz. “Lucky Strike,” the title track of her superb new album, has crisp striding presence. And I’m not usually a big ballad guy, but the standout of the set was “Comet,” a moving, cooing thing of beauty. If you love classic Buddy and Julie Miller material, you ought to know about this transplanted Georgian.

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There was a lot to think about in Carsie Blanton’s music, from tricky wordplay to curious harmonic shifts to an overall sense of style and self confidence. With a drummer and keyboard player, she played electric guitar and led a small band to great effect. “Vim & Vigor” has a tidy little hip hop groove and a seductive minor keyed melody. Blanton’s voice rich with little curls and flakes and crunchy edges. On “The Animal I Am” she reminded me of Norah Jones and Madeline Peyroux. And her closer, her album title track, “So Ferocious” has been stuck on repeat in my mind’s ear since Wednesday. It’s super catchy and clever. I’m adding Carsie to my short list of under-rated songwriters you really should know.

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