By Clyde Davis
It’s not your daddy’s country music, that is for sure. If your concept of country music is Haggard and Jones, Wynette and Lynn, the stuff your mom and dad used to listen to, the Jessica Andrews concert presented for free at ENMU this past week would have thrown you for a loop.
Oh no, only in a positive way. I’ve heard a lot about how musicians can make a better presentation in the recording studio than is possible on stage, and I suppose that is true. Let’s admit, however, that there are things that will come across live that could not possibly be duplicated in a recording studio.
Such was the case with this event. Whether it was the audience/entertainer chemistry, or the particular band she was using, or a combination of the above, Ms. Andrews alternately rocked and romanced the CUB ballroom full of people.
Let’s start with the romanced. We were all, I guess, prepared for the polished Nashville sound which we expect from hearing this performer on the radio and videos. Well, yes, there was some of that. But since I was there with my favorite (and only) date, I for one was thrilled when she launched into a series of slowdance tunes that gave out the atmosphere of a high school prom (in a good sense, not bad). Whew!
No, that wasn’t all. The phrase “crossover artist” is real common right now, almost to the point where it doesn’t have much meaning. Well, until the other night. Ms. Andrews not only crossed over, she crossed over in several directions. Like blues.
She started off with a pretty traditional rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” and that was cool. But it got better. She took the song and wove it into a 10-minute piece that went off into solo pieces by her backup musicians, bounced around back to the original song, and spliced in some interludes that sounded for all the world like Janis Joplin revisited. But hey, didn’t Joplin always claim her main influences were country music and Texas blues?
Yeah. What I am trying to say is that Ms. Andrews, or somebody, has been doing her homework. She isn’t just another in a long line of cutesy lookalike Nashville-shaped performers who sing patent Nashville-type songs. Which, to be honest, was what I was expecting. A pleasant evening, nice enough, but nothing to get excited about. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised.
Lots of the music, too, was hard driving, which for me is a plus. That goes more to the credit of the backup band than the singer, but it sure helped shape my evening. Personally, I like it when a musician can at least dance around the edges of heavy metal, and these guys effectively did that — no, it wasn’t heavy metal, but their keyboard and guitar/drum work was guaranteed not to put you to sleep.
Well, the most exciting thing about the evening was that mix and variety. Sure, I like country music — but I can appreciate all kinds of music. As I have said before, I am musically illiterate enough to appreciate Merle or Mozart, Bach or Brookes and Dunn. Not to mention jazz, heavy metal, folk — pretty much everything except that anti-everything stuff that begins with an “R.”
In closing, let’s give a big hoorah to the CUB event staff. Most of us didn’t understand why they were set on keeping a part of the wooden floor free of chairs — that is, until she started singin’ and we started dancin’.
Foresight is better than “wish we had …”
Way to go, ENMU. Great evening and all for free.
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at