Callaghan’s Birthday Bash with Granville Automatic
Not many performers can take an often overly sentimental standard like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and make it a stunner by completely transforming the song solely by force of their own style. With a voice like fine china, or morning sunshine in a field of wildflowers, or honey, or spun gold, or Baccarat crystal – you get the idea – Georgina Callaghan (who simply goes by Callaghan professionally) treated a sold-out crowd full of family, friends and loyal fans (many of whom called out requests) to blossoms of pop color and gentle, tender love songs from her three albums, as well as covers of Prince’s “Purple Rain” and The Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There.”
Reminiscent of Sarah MacLachlan and Mary Chapin Carpenter with hints of Taylor Swift, Callaghan’s songs can seem overly bright and weightless on the surface, but the woman is simply so charming and upbeat with a voice that can make even the hardest-hearted of critics’ hearts melt, that you want to stick around to dig deeper.
Her songs are bright and shiny, about love and loss – mostly about love – with most of them akin to musical love letters, like “Noah’s Song” to her young nephew (dedicated this night to her young niece in the front row who appeared embarrassed but was probably secretly thrilled), “Who Would I Be” to supporters, especially Eddie Owen who provided her first live show opportunity in the U.S., and “Blue Eyes,” which she wrote to her husband on their first wedding anniversary. Halfway through writing the song, she said, she realized that his eyes weren’t blue. It now appears on her latest album as “Green Eyes.”
Accompanied on stage by guitarist Mike Gallagher and cellist Okori Johnson, a highlight was “It Was Meant to Be” from her debut, Life in Full Color, a gentle love song. Johnson’s cello was a perfect addition, providing an atmospheric and classical mood — the man has some serious chops.
Her link to Atlanta is strong. Originally from London, in 2009 the singer-songwriter reached out to Shawn Mullins who was immediately taken with her voice and would eventually produce her first album. Callaghan left her London digs and boarded a plane headed for Atlanta, where venue owner and local music promotion legend Eddie Owen also immediately became a fan and champion – and with family and friends in the audience, it made for a very touching and emotional night.
She closed with “We Don’t Have to Change the World” from her latest album, A History of Now, a rather Zen-like ode to being in the moment with those closest to you, with the song morphing into the aforementioned Staples Singers classic accompanied by Johnson’s rather trippy cello solo (totally unexpected yet completely perfect), and then transitioning into an a cappella “What A Wonderful World.”
The amazing Granville Automatic opened, performing songs from their two previous albums as well as a few new numbers. The duo of Elizabeth Elkins and Vanessa Olivarez appeared as polar opposites with Elkins in black jeans, t-shirt, boots and heavy eyeliner looking like a blonde Chrissie Hynde, and Olivarez in a bright flower-print dress straight out of the 1960s. The contrast was misleading, as both artists complement each other extremely well: Elkins’ deadpan humor, straightforward storytelling and steady guitar melded perfectly with Olivarez’s bright humor and impressive vocals, a performer who is unedited and completely charming.
Olivarez joked that they liked to write and perform “happy songs about death, and sad songs about death.” The two go much, much deeper than that, and are excellent songwriters, historians, storytellers, and performers. Their latest release, An Army Without Music: Civil War Songs from Hallowed Ground, (read the ND review here) was recently a No Depression Editor’s Pick. The band has some very interesting things in the works, so look for more from them soon.