the Buzz for June 2011


Matraca Berg — “A Cold, Rainy Morning in London in June”
(from The Dreaming Fields) — A Cold, Rainy Morning In London In June - The Dreaming Fields

The glorious Berg didn’t stumble into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame by accident, and indeed, the only thing more mind-blowing than the breadth of her brilliant oeuvre — Patty Loveless’ “You Can Feel Bad,” Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine,” Martina McBride’s “Wild Angels,” and a goodly chunk of Trisha Yearwood’s entire discography (to name just a few!) all originated from her hot little pen — is the fact that the industry unto which she has delivered classic smash after classic smash writing for others has so stubbornly and steadfastly refused to allow Berg the success she has so richly earned as her own woman. It figures, of course: Miss Loretta notwithstanding, Nashville has largely and historically not been commercially kind to songbirds who have the gumption and gall to write their own words unless they are forced to by the vagaries of DNA (see: Rosanne Cash) or otherwise happen to find themselves caught up in a full-fledged fluke (see: Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gretchen Wilson, both of whom got shunted beyond the palace walls as soon as possible). Berg is back with her fourth album, the deeply engrossing Dreaming Fields, and while its heavy complement of downbeat tunes — Matraca specializes in these kinds of unassuming, divinely depressing slice-of-life narratives — very nearly ensures that superstardom will again have to wait, it stands as a new personal best in a body of work that far too many have let pass unnoticed.


George Michael & Queen — “Somebody to Love”
(from Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael) — Somebody to Love - Ladies & Gentlemen - The Best of George Michael

A final word on the Sugarland show about which I’ve been railing (and raving) for days now (and, no doubt, about which you must be sick of reading): Little Big Town and Matt Nathanson returned to the stage to join Jen and Kris and close the concert with a triumphant cover of this Queen classic, which of course gave me a surrious hankering for my gorgeous George Michael, who himself — helped along by the surviving members of Queen — turned in an intensely intoxicating cover of this tune some two decades ago, at a tribute concert honoring Queen’s fabulous lead singer Freddie Mercury just a few months following Mercury’s tragic death from AIDS, and who landed himself a sizable radio hit with the recording the following year. (Matter of fact, sacrilegious though it may seem, there are those among us who quite justifiably feel that Michael stole and assumed sole possession of the song with this one brazenly brilliant performance.) And I generally find that whenever I get an overpowering urge for some George, the best and most satisfying course of action is to indulge it.


Sugarland — “Incredible Machine [interlude]”
(from The Incredible Machine) — Incredible Machine (Interlude) - The Incredible Machine (Deluxe Edition)

As for the main event in the concert whose praises I sung in yesterday’s Honey from the Hive: this was our second brush with Sugarland in a live setting (the first was here in Austin in 2009, and if you missed my dispatch regarding that experience, you can catch up with it here). I don’t have a hell of a lot to add to what I wrote back then, because it all still pretty much applies, even a pair of years later, but I will once again reassert that Jennifer Nettles’ lively, galvanic potency as a live performer is such that many of her songs which may leave you cold when you listen to a Sugarland record — “All We Are,” for instance, or Machine‘s middling third single “Tonight” — make your spirit soar when she sings them straight to you (and, natch, to five thousand fellow fans). (That’s not necessarily true across the board: I thought “Stand Up” was a cliched hunk of ponderous poppycock when I first listened to Machine last October, and my stance was not moved a millimeter in any direction after seeing it on its arena-sized feet. And — as much as it pains me to agree with him — my cyber buddy Blake nailed it to the wall when he intimated on this very website last fall that one of the governing inspirations behind this record was to give Jennifer and Kristian Bush, her underappreciated musical partner in crime, a series of big, booming, stadium-ready set pieces designed to carry their audiences floating back to their cars on a post-show heartstring-tugged high, although it feels imperative that the following must also be noted: indeed, my heartstrings were, on balance, tugged, tweaked, plucked, and prodded, but it still takes a peculiarly cultivated talent and skill to be able to see that through and make it seem effortless, and, for whatever flaws she may otherwise possess as an artist, that is unquestionably Nettles’ compelling, magnetic magic as a performer.) Bush and Nettles opened their encore with this very song, a riveting ninety-second reprise of their latest album’s shimmering title track that offers Bush — his voice a captivating study in haunted, reverent awe — a rare opportunity to shine in the sun all by his lonesome, and aside from the magnificently jocular left turn when Nettles unexpectedly leapt from the bridge of “Everyday America” right into the chorus of Cee-Lo Green’s zeitgeisty smash “Forget You” (which you’d best believe brought the whole damned Alamodome to its collective feet), it was my favorite (and, hands down, the most profoundly powerful) moment of the night.


Little Big Town — “Shut Up Train” (from The Reason Why) — Shut Up Train - The Reason Why

So sorry for the dearth of Buzz posts, but it was quite the whirlwind week around here and I am just now getting a chance to catch my breath. Last Friday night, A and I popped down to San Antonio to catch Sugarland in concert with Little Big Town and Sherry Ann’s old fave Matt Nathanson, and trust and believe this show was well worth the slog through rush hour traffic. I wouldn’t quite call myself LBT’s biggest fan, but I’ve never been able to comprehend why country radio acts like they’re halfway terrified of this band, a nifty cross between Alison Krauss’ outfit Union Station and those rock gods Fleetwood Mac, and only three of whose dozen singles have managed to scratch and claw their way into the top ten. (If there’s even a shred of justice in this nutty world, their latest cut — the masterfully melodic title track of their latest album — will be the one that breaks them for good this summer.) This gorgeous stunner, with its spine-tingling vocal performance from Karen Fairchild, was the emotional zenith of Big Town’s set (if not the night as a whole, although La Nettles gave this gal some fierce competition a number of times), and though the studio version doesn’t quite transmit the same power as the live, brilliantly raw performance did, I bet you’ll be shaken (and stirred) nonetheless.