After 35 years of performing, Amy Ray should exhibit some small measure of cynicism, some slight indication that this whole thing is getting old. Nope. Not a chance. Quite the opposite, actually. Her genuine enthusiasm for music and its makers is apparent to anyone lucky enough to be in the same room with her, including the folks at 3rd and Lindsley on April 29 and Music City Roots on April 30. I mean, really… when was the last time you saw an artist clap — on stage and repeatedly — for their band?
Kicking off the first of her two nights in Nashville, Ray and company launched into a lively rendering of “The Gig That Matters,” the spirit of which set a festive tone for everything that was to follow. Weighted heavily with tunes from her latest release, Goodnight Tender, the set also drew from Ray’s previous solo albums along with one Indigo Girls’ deep cut (“Salty South”). A sweetly countrified version of “When You’re Gone, You’re Gone” prefaced a warm and cozy rendering of “Oyster and Pearl” that eventually led to a feisty work up of “Duane Allman” and an easy, stripped-down stroll through “Anyhow.”
After working through another half dozen tunes — including “Bird in the Hand,” “Broken Record,” and “Johnny Rottentail” — Ray introduced “The Rise of the Black Messiah” by telling the story of how Herman Wallace, one of the Angola Three, wrote her a letter some years ago in which he detailed his wrongful persecution and 40 years in solitary confinement. Wallace was released from prison last October and died of liver cancer three days later, so she wrote this song for him. She paired it perfectly with “Let the Spirit” to close out the set.
Ray’s stellar supporting cast included Jeff Fielder (guitar, dobro, mandolin, keys, vocals), Matt Smith (pedal steel, banjo), Cary Brooks (bass), Jim Brock (drums, percussion), and Adrian Carter (fiddle, guitar, banjo, vocals), with Jordan Hamlin (accordion, vocals) and Amanda Platt (vocals) joyfully piling on for the encore of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lodi.” The gang chose wisely to bring it all home with “The Rock Is My Foundation” and the house showed their appreciation with a standing ovation.
And that was just the first night.
Down at Music City Roots, the band only had five shots to win over the ever-tough crowd in the ever-casual Loveless Barn. Wisely, Ray kept to the most traditional tunes of the bunch, opening with “Hunter’s Prayer.” She beamed as Hamlin added a soothing accordion drone underneath Fielder’s lonesome dobro slides on “Anyhow.” After “More Pills,” banjo great Alison Brown joined the fun for “Broken Record” and “Duane Allman” which brought the audience to their feet. The show-closing MCR jam saw a reprise of “Lodi” featuring all of the musicians from the night — Jim Lauderdale, Jim Bianco, the Farewell Drifters, Amy Black, and the Bankesters. It, too, had the crowd on their feet and dancing in the aisles.
Even if Amy Ray isn’t jaded, Nashville notoriously is. So, with two triumphant nights in Music City under her belt, she got her country stripes the old-fashioned way… she earned them.