Saturday, March 22, 2008

Nashville, Day Three - The Moon And The Songbirds

I was staggering back to my hotel well after 2am on day three when I heard something odd coming from a tree on Church Street – a bird singing. I thought it might be another Nashville downtown gimmick, like the piped country music that seems to come out of the sewers, and the pedestrian crossing beepers, which sound like a sparrow being squeezed to chirp in rhythm. But it was in fact a real live American Robin, not known for being a nocturnal bird, perched on a branch and singing up at the almost full moon.

“There’s a full moon hanging over Nashville/And an empty heart that’s singing down below,” the robin was probably singing. Even the birds are inspired by the moon to be country and western singers here. And although country’s always been dominated by males, it’s had its fair share of songbirds, my own particular loves being Sara Carter, Bobby Gentry and Kitty Wells. And my favourite of them all, who just brought out a four-disc boxed set called ‘Songbird’ that I got for Christmas.

And so I was sitting at the bar of the Station Inn last night - a shack stuck at the end of a dark street, but that’s not a surprise location for a music venue in a city of such fragmented layout. And sitting at a table a few feet away there’s this white-haired older chick who looks distinguished and beautiful and vaguely familiar, but I don’t think any more about it and start to read my recommended Tennessee book, Nick Dawidoff’s In The Country of Country. And 15 minutes later a woman sits down next to me just as the support act, Fayssoux McLean, is about to play and says, “Did you see Emmylou’s here?”

“Oh yes,” I say, all nonchalant. “I saw her earlier.” Because we all know Emmylou on a first-name basis here in Nashville. And when McLean, who looked like a worried soccer mom but who used to back Harris and Linda Ronstadt in the 70s, did perform, the songbird came on stage and did backing vocals on four numbers. Which made it all worthwhile, because neither McLean nor the main act, Peter Cooper, did as much for me as the raucous country bands playing standards for free in the bars on Broadway.

Cooper told us that it was exactly eight years since he’d moved to Nashville. It’s a tough town to impress, and I didn’t think the crowd really warmed to him. His voice sounded too smooth, and his songs awkwardly structured. If it hadn’t been for Lloyd Green on the pedal steel, I’d have ducked out early (Emmylou, wisely, didn’t stay after she’d done her bit for Fayssoux).

But on the encore a well-lived female singer came on to do backing vocals on a cover version (can’t recall what), and she sounded like Bonny Tyler after three packets of cigarettes. I wished she’d been singing all night. Songbird or song-bloke, you’ve either got country or you ain’t.

For me, it’s a case of ain’t. I never made it to the Nashville Star auditions yesterday due to a lingering hangover. I did get as far as taking the travel guitar out of my car and carrying it up to my hotel room, but I haven’t taken it out of its case yet. I’ll just have to come back next year.


No Good Boyo said...

Elegant, elegaic, and nice pic of the gee-tar.

Uncle Sticky said...

Never mind about the talent show - I can't believe you didn't try to get a snog out of Emmylou. You're obviously not a real songbird stalker.

Lovely piece. Could you do some beer tasting sessions* if you've time?

* Beer tasting with old country stars would be nice.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

Too kind. The guitar once belonged to Chet Atkins and now resides in the C&W Museum and Hall of Fame.

6,000 hopefuls turned up for the talent show, so I would just have wasted a day waiting around on the hot pavement. I feel it was much more country not to turn up because for being under the weather. A good A&R man would have spotted my talent on those grounds alone, recognising that a bleary-eyed bloke shuffling around town miles away from the audition had what it takes to be a no-show maverick like George Jones.

Rimona said...

Well said.