Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Shantel Adams, Ben West, Scott Jarman, Denise Benson, Bluebird Cafe 11/25/08

I am always surprised and flattered when people I haven't met before find my blog and tell me they've read it. I'm also humbled when people extend to me special invitations to their shows. So it was when Shantel Adams invited me to hear her in a Bluebird round. I already knew two of the other writers in the round, Scott Jarman and Ben West. When Denise Benson arrived, I realized I'd met her previously as well.

Native Canadian Shantel Adams was the new one in the group to me. She's had some successes with charting songs in Canada and is currently doing well with a Canadian Christmas song. She has a lovely gentle voice with, as was pointed out in the round, an Anne Murray type quality. Her songs received a most favorable reception from the crowd, among those being a beautiful Christmas song called "Thank God For Christmas", "He Sure Cleans Up Good" (on which she was joined by co-writer Janice Gilbert on vocals), "That Makes You You", and a fun tune a lot of us can relate to which urged us to "just say no to your high school reunion." Shantel is certainly one to keep an ear out for.

Two words aptly describe Kentucky guy Ben West: country gentleman. He's a traditionalist all the way and a charming entertainer. He amused and enlightened us with his autobiographical tunes "Cause I'm Country" and "This Hat Ain't No Act", "Grinnin From Gear To Gear", and touched us with "Nothing To Lose" about leaving home to make it in Nashville.

Dallas, TX native Denise Benson showed us some very strong material, starting us out with the very fun "Hunk of Bubba" and "I Must Be in Texas" (because there was salsa at the buffet). One inspirational highlight was the song co-written with Brandon Maddox, "Enough Grace".

Scott Jarman, who I run into often at songwriter events and rounds, is a solid singer/songwriter. Unfortuately, I didn't hear most of his song titles. Memo to artists: help out us bloggers, writers and fans and tell us the names of your songs! I really liked the first love song he did, as well as one he set up with a Civil War metaphor.

Overall, a very nice evening of good songwriting. As always, my good wishes and prayers going up for these folks hoping to get hit cuts in this town.

Monday, November 24, 2008

John Heinrich, Steel Guitar Demonstration, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, 11/23/08

The very best thing about what I do here in supporting artists is watching the circle expand. Here's how this one went. I met artist manager extraordinare Judy Whiting on Nashville Music Pros. Virtuoso sax player and steel guitar player John Heinrich is her client. So, Judy invited me to John's steel guitar demonstration this past Sunday at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Before that all happens, I met Judy and John for the first time at the Radio Free Nashville station after John's interview.

John Heinrich is an extraordinary talent who plays many instruments besides steel guitar and saxophone. He's also a cool, humble guy. In his demonstration he gave us the history of the pedal steel guitar, the lap steel guitar (most commonly used in Hawaiian recordings) and the dobro and showed us how they worked. Of course, he played a couple of songs on each instrument. He invited any brave souls to come up and try the steel guitar (one did...certainly not me. I've never played a "normal" guitar, never mind working up the nerve to attempt pedal steel!). Now John made us promise not to tell this, so you didn't hear it from me. He did one song on pedal steel I hoped he would play, which was his arrangement of a modern jazz classic. (Hint: you can hear it on his MySpace profile.) As someone who is basically a fan first and never played an instrument for any length of time, I have to appreciate the opportunity to take a look through the window of a musician's world this way. It's very enlightening and gives you a greater respect for the entire creative process.

Again, one other cool thing about this event is meeting new people and especially those for the first time in person that I've communicated with online for awhile. And, to have these people accept what I do and include me on these and other events is very gratifying.

When the circle expands, it's a joyful thing.

What a weekend. I'm a blessed gal to be in this town.

Friends of Pegram Park Writers Night, Fiddle and Pick, Pegram TN 11/22/08

The only time I'd been to Pegram before this night was when I was driving in the area I moved to this past summer. I missed my turn and kept going...eventually I found I had crossed counties and arrived in this little town. I found out later that Pegram was home to this lovely place called Fiddle and Pick. It's housed in a restored 100+ year old building which had served a number of purposes but is now a place which celebrates traditional music and offers instruction and workshops on fiddles, banjos, mandolins, guitars and similar instruments. Fiddle and Pick has a homey, country store atmosphere with excellent sound quality.

Many wonderful songwriters graced this writers night benefiting the Friends of Pegram Park. For me it had a combined intimate feel of a house concert and a CLC writers night I recently attended. By and large these writers have had cuts by major artists or are touring artists themselves. The half hour sets offered a variety of styles from folk to Americana to jazz.

Joe Doyle had cuts with many hit artists, including "In Pictures", a #1 song by Alabama. He played electric and acoustic guitars instead of his usual piano. A set highlight was the song "Tacklebox" recorded by Luke Bryan. The charming Steve Leslie admitted to being a little nervous without a set list, but did a fine job nonetheless performing among others, one song which was covered by George Strait. Laurie McClain, accompanied by Fats Kaplan on mandolin, is an alluring singer/songwriter who performed thoughtful songs off her lovely new release "Ascend", including one very cute song about a UFO landing, "Somewhere In Kentucky".

K Squared (Karen Angela Moore, vocals, Kent Gunderson, guitar) offered up an upbeat jazzy set of original material. Kim McLean, Devon O'Day and Mark Elliott, who tour together often, teamed up for a great set trading off songs and backing each other. Mark did a few songs from his latest album, "Good Life". Personal set highlight for me was Kim and Devon doing the hauntingly beautiful "Baruch Ha Ba" (Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; this can be found on Kim's marvelous CD "Soul Solace". You'll be blessed.) Wrapping up the night was Jeff Miller, a fine singer/songwriter and technical guitar virtuoso who created sound effects with his guitar. He's much like northern Minnesota artist Michael Monroe who I heard often in the Twin Cities.

This was for sure one of those warm fuzzy evenings. There were some familiar faces in the crowd and on stage at the show, and I made a few new friends among the players before the night was out. Some were so kind to share their product with me upon finding out I write this little blog. And a special shout out to Mark Elliott, who went above and beyond after the show to give me a "personal by request" performance of a song of his I enjoy called "Baseball and Beatles" from his "American Road" CD.

How lucky can a gal get, anyway? I am thankful to be in this town.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Alex Harvey, Puckett's After Hours, Leiper's Fork, 11/14/08

In October I was sitting in the studio at Radio Free Nashville waiting to do my radio show. "Geo On the Radio" was on tape that day as he was away. It was a replay of the show where Alex Harvey, writer of "Delta Dawn", "Reuben James", "Rings", and many others was his guest. Besides being a superb songwriter, Alex is also a person of faith. Geo and Alex may not have realized it, but God showed up during the interview in that small studio. I laughed, cried and praised God right along with Alex as I was listening. After that, I did my best radio show ever to this date.

For that reason, I couldn't wait to have a chance to hear Alex Harvey live. I had a feeling I was going to get my socks blessed off. It was a dark and stormy night, though the drive to Leiper's Fork wasn't quite as scary because I had the sense to make a test run to Puckett's that morning to see where it was. Normally I'd stay home on these kind of evenings, but I sure was glad to have ventured out.

Alex and his wonderful hard rocking band played to an intimate crowd of folks who appeared to be regulars at his Puckett's After Hours gigs. But even this first timer soon felt as if I were one, too. His songs and performances were powerful and passionate throughout the entire evening. For the first part of the show it was up and fun, with songs like, "Reuben James", "$5 Fine For Whining"...and then, zing. Alex got you in the heart with complete honesty and bearing his soul.

I've spent years going to dozens of Southern Gospel and other Christian music concerts and coming away strengthened in my faith. But I tell you, what Alex shared was ministry in one of its most effective and, again, powerful forms. He told stories of tragic circumstances surrounding his family members (particularly in a moving setup to "Delta Dawn"), but did so packing a punch of a testimony of faith in a God that restores and sustains. Indeed, you could easily feel the love and joy from his faith and for his audience from the stage (and I loved watching the whole band join hands in prayer before the show started). I'm told he often leads worship for churches. That should be a great experience.

If you love great songwriting and a tight band, and want to get a big blessing, do check out Alex Harvey live. And, if you really want to be ministered to, get his album "Galilee".

Praise God for this town.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Commodore Grill, 11/7/08: Voice and Spirit

The Commodore Grill is fast becoming my place of choice to check out writers nights. The renovations have made it a songwriter-friendly room and a great atmosphere to check out people you've heard before and meet new ones. Indeed, I have heard many, many rounds with singer/songwriters I have loved dearly. But the two rounds I attended last night were two of the best and most memorable I have heard in this room...both of them so for different reasons.

I first came across Rory Partin a couple of years ago when he brought his big band to the "don't tell the preacher" dance at Mark Lowry's first Senior Trip. He did a great job with bandleading and singing standards. I was delighted and interested to hear that he also has the singer/songwriter side so it was a nice touch to hear him in this setting. He described some of his songs as not "Nashville" but more R&B. Combined with his wife, Jeni Varnadeau, an equally charming songwriter (both backed by guitarist Jordan Jamison) and Treva Blomquist (filling in for two artists who needed to cancel due to illness), who was also enjoyable, it was pure magic to hear these folks interact and to experience some truly great powerful singing. Fortunately, it was a Friday night so the round went on for about an hour. It wasn't long enough...I hated to hear it end. Rory, Jeni and Treva are now on my radar for the future.

The next round, with Denny Martin (who I last saw supporting Alan O'Day at the Bluebird Cafe), Kira Small, and Justin Spears, may have received some of the "fairie dust" left behind from the previous group. There were many good musical moments here, too--Kira and Justin did a fine job on their songs and Denny's. But this one was mostly about heart. Denny is the embodiment of the joy and the spirit of making music. It's the feeding of the soul, the giving and receiving of energy between audience and performer...and in fact, Denny acknowledged feeling just that after one of his songs.

Excellence is great. We heard that this evening. But sometimes it's about spirit, and if your heart is open to receive, it can fill you the same way as that voice that knocked it out of the park. In my world, they can, and will, co-exist.

I shall not lose my sense of wonder. I love this town and all its artists going for the joy.