Andrea Zonn is one of Nashville’s most beloved musicians, both as a fiddle virtuoso and a vocalist. She has been a unwavering presence in the bands of James Taylor, and her talents have enhanced the music of greats such as Vince Gill, Alison Brown, John Cowan, Jerry Douglas and many more. Her newest album, Rise, features an extraordinary cast, and many of them came to participate when she performed music from the album at Music City Roots. This review will give you a taste. Come hear Andrea and her band Live at the Legs on Friday, October 30.
The Love Show – MCR 8.26.15
Usually the world of music scribing involves a separation between record reviews and show reviews, but this gets to be both at once. And several things occurred to me as we were taking in Andrea Zonn’s upcoming album Rise performed in sequence. First is that while I’d love to see us do more full album recital style shows, there just aren’t that many albums that hold up front to back with 100% satisfaction and sufficient variety, the way this one does. And while Andrea said in our album bio collaboration that her working title for the project was The Love Album, we can at least retroactively remember this event as The Love Show. For there was much of it zapping all around Liberty Hall.
I’m a music first/lyrics later kind of listener, and that’s why I’m in love with Rise; it’s a total immersion musical experience. It’s got many memorable lines and well wrought songs to be sure. But it elevates above so many fine Nashville songwriting displays with sonic ideas, like the daring major-minor-modal shifts in “Where The Water Meets The Sky” and the onomatopoetic chorus of “Rise”. So Andrea and team were determined to translate those nuances and tricky bits on stage, including the unprecedented commitment of a night-before dress rehearsal on the Liberty Hall stage. Thus was all that studio thoughtfulness translated into an hour of live sonic gorgeousness.
Songs one and five, “Another Side Of Home” and “Let Them Go” seemed to be written a bit under the influence of Andrea’s employer James Taylor, with their New England autumnal sweetness. On this night the much lauded studio wizard Mac MacAnally was on hand to sing the parts JT sang on the record. Blues icon Keb’ Mo’ came out for the gospel-infused “No Reason To Feel Good” which sounds like it’s not a feel-good song, but it is. Keb and Andrea trading solo ideas (his guitar, her fiddle) over the song’s sweet vamp was fabulous. Vince Gill emerged for the first of several support spots, playing guitar and singing on “Crazy If You Let It,” a graceful study in resilience. The mega-amazing Jim Oblon played guitar in the band and he kicked off my favorite track with the spooky simple riff that defines “I Can’t Talk About It Now.” I could bob my head to that one all night, savoring its deliciously jazzy chords. The joined voices of Andrea, Mac and support vocalist Drea Rhenee on closer “Let Them Go” were indescribably thrilling.
I’m going on and on, but let’s say the B-side set was every bit as good with the title track as an emotional climax. Here, album collaborator Thomm Jutz got some prominent space for his acoustic guitar skills and Oblon took the solo with his fiery and fascinating approach. Alison Brown came on with her banjo for the tempo shifter and seventh inning stretch that is the swinging “Swing And A Miss.” Then more Vince with the beautifully written, easy-grooving “You Make Me Whole.” And the final guest of the night, incredibly tall and incredibly deep-voiced Trace Adkins, strode on to sing with Andrea in the album closer “Ships,” a kind of Celtic blessing.
All this made me think of 20 Feet From Stardom, the Oscar winning film about Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and other classic background singers who leave us moved while we learn the names and faces of the stars they support. Andrea could have been in that movie. She’s one of the best and if anyone deserves to step those 20 feet to center stage it’s her. And like I said before, it’s more than just her ability to toss off a world class fiddle break or sing crystal clear tones. She projects herself and her inherent gentleness in all musical situations. She makes parts into a whole, just like her song says. She inspires loyalty and connections with the musicians around her – like the hugely famous bass player Willie Weeks who made time to do the album and this gig. That takes something songwriters and singers tell of all the time but show and share less often. You know what I’m talking about.