Stevie Wonder As We Wander

The Christmas trees were going up in the Factory as we arrived for show day this week, and the best part wasn’t the lights but the smell. The aroma of a Frazier Fir stimulates a trunk line to the brain’s center for pleasure, peace and nostalgia, at least in my case. May you have your own delightful associations and sensations in the days and nights ahead. Because one week after our annual Thanksgiving Eve show, it was clear as it could be that amid even more news of heartbreak and loss out there, light still shines and love still abides.

The first half of our Wednesday night show presented two young women who both came to Nashville to do the Belmont University music business program but who couldn’t sound or feel more different. Show opener Brooke Annabale was moody and plaintive, her voice a muted cornet and her backing band made of only a cello and violin. She writes and sings about perseverance in the face of life’s fears, and the song “Patience” typified her virtues and her calm tempos. So when Morgan Myles hit the stage with a four piece band and a shaking tambourine it was a sudden whirlwind of vocal force. Her single “Whiskey Dreaming” is bright and snappy without being sappy, and she ranged through various moods from a striding funk to forceful, riffy rock. She’s got a lot of range and tools as a singer, and she showed the most flash on the mid-tempo ballad “We Won’t Go Home,” in which she closed the set with a series of high notes that brought the crowd to its feet.

My respect for Leigh Nash as a visionary artist and engaging vocalist grows every time I see her. Her voice isn’t just rangy and strong; it’s interesting and layered. And it sounds like nobody else I’ve ever heard sing country music. It’s a bit wild that this longtime pop artist and Sixpence None The Richer star is writing and making traditional country, but her roots are in Texas and it’s clear she doesn’t wish to stand pat as an artist. Her performance with a sizzling little Nashville band (including upright bass, Pete Finney’s pedal steel and her husband on acoustic guitar) came off like Tori Amos having mod cocktails with Loretta Lynn. “Cruel Heart” has a fantastic, daring melody and the lonesome blue soul of Hank Williams. She shouted out to her co-writer Gerry House (the DJ!) before singing the rumba-riffic “Somebody’s Yesterday.” And I loved the pop colors and bounce of “Mountain.” Nash told me in the chat room that 2016 is going to be all about singing these songs and writing more country music. We approve that message.

The Roosevelts kicked off their set with “Hard To Believe” but their sound and sincerity was utterly believable. They offered some cooing classic vocals on the opener and then showed a harder rocking side on “Belly of the Beast.” Jason Kloess offered some nice electric guitar decorations to James Mason’s vocal leads, and in “Cold Sheets” he donned a mandolin hanging over the guitar and wound up playing both in one song. Never seen that before. Mason’s voice was strong and supple, and it stepped up a notch on the slow jam finale “Peaches.” They certainly pulled everybody in on that one if they hadn’t already. Kudos to this relatively new Nashville duo (plus three piece band) for suggesting “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” for the Nashville Jam. We’d never done that Stevie Wonder song and it came off, uh, wonderfully, notably Jim Lauderdale’s opening verse vocal. Holy mackerel that guy can sing. He opened the night with “Soul Searching” but I think he’s already found it.

Craig H.

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