Nettles is authentic; her passion and commitment to the music is undeniable.
Peabody Opera House, St. Louis
Wrapping up the “CMT Next Women of Country” tour, Jennifer Nettles and Brandy Clark made a pit stop in St. Louis to promote their upcoming new releases. Nettles has Playing with Fire due out May 13, with Clark’s Big Day in a Small Town set to drop June 10.
While both singers highlighted tracks from their new album throughout their sets, they also offered up a couple new acts to kick off the show. Tara Thompson may have an excellent pedigree—she’s the cousin of Loretta Lynn—but this young singer has the chops to make it on her own. Although she resembled Tanny Tannerson, the tannest girl in Tan Town, her songs were intriguing enough to warrant a second listen. “Pregnant at the Prom” reminded me of Clark’s sharp writing skills. This young singer is one to watch.
Next up: Lindsay Ell. Why do I seem to have such an infatuation with Canadian country singers? While Miss Ell has a gorgeous voice and excellent guitar skills, it was her ingenuity that impressed me the most. Who needs a backup band when you can record an instrument loop—on the spot—and layer it over other loops? Her resourcefulness will serve her well…as will her mad beatbox skills.
I have been a fan of Brandy Clark ever since her album 12 Stories dropped in 2014. After the first listen, I stood there stunned, unable to move. The lyrics on the entire album were mesmerizing. Clark has an uncanny ability to write the type of songs that capture mundane, everyday events and make them spectacular. From rolling a fat one on “Get High,” to murderous fashion faux pas in “Stripes,” to simply not cheating in “Hold My Hand,” Clark is what I call a “lyrical painter.” Her lyrics are so precise, so colorful, that she paints a picture of everyday life “realness” flawlessly.
Then there is her writing cred. Clark has penned some very impressive songs for other singers, including Miranda Lambert, Sheryl Crow, Reba McEntire, and LeAnn Rimes, to name a few. I was so happy to see her get her own kudos when nominated for a Best Country Song Grammy for “Hold My Hand.” It was perhaps during the performance of this song in her set that I just had to close my eyes and let her brilliant voice wash over me. This happened time and time again on the night, with the likes of “You Can Come Over,” “Homecoming Queen,” and “Three Kids No Husband.”
The thing about Clark that I find appealing is her unpretentiousness. She didn’t need flashy lights, explosions, or massive visuals to fill the hall of the intimate Peabody Opera House; her voice was more than enough to keep the crowd engaged. Clark’s set was a one of the best I have seen in 2016, and will for sure make an appearance on my “Best of 2016” list.
Nettles is another musical beast altogether. As she kicked off her set with “Playing with Fire,” the title track from her new album, I knew we were in store for a more flamboyant type of set. The Sugarland singer—decked out in the most delicious gold lamé pants—came to rock. Here’s the thing about Nettles: She is authentic. Her passion and commitment to the music is undeniable. She is the embodiment of rock ’n’ roll. I know she is a classified as a country singer, but this vocalist has the essence or rock ’n’ roll running through her veins.
As she stalked the stage, I couldn’t help but compare her energy to that of Janis Joplin. Nettles completely commanded the stage, no matter if she was flirting with the audience during “Drunk in Heels,” or pouring her heart out during “Falling,” mixing up the Salt ‘N Pepa classic “Shoop” with her sassy “Sugar.” Nettles’ penchant for cover tunes that endears me to her even further.
While she took on S&P and Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” I was hoping to hear her rendition of Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” from the That Girl album. While that didn’t happen, Nettles made up for it by nailing her magnificent collaboration with Jon Bon Jovi, “You Can’t Go Home.” When you watch Nettles perform live, you can’t help but be swept away by her overwhelming energy, her genuine spirit, and her love for her fans. Another spectacular set turned in by another amazing performer made this night of four outstanding singers a night to remember.
Indeed, CMT: This is the future of “Women of Country.” | Jim Ryan