Aqua Velvet has billed its last two shows at 3rd and Lindsley as “Exotic Sounds in Country Music,” and while the words “exotic” and “country music” are not very often used in the same sentence, the description fit the night’s music perfectly.
Arranged and directed by the versatile session musician Jim Hoke, Aqua Velvet is the kind of band that could exist in very few places on the planet other than Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to the expected instrumentation — guitar, bass, drums, harmonica, pedal steel — the 10-piece band included a violin (not a fiddle) and a cello, flutes, clarinets, saxophones, a mouth harp, and more. Powerhouse vocalist Kristie Rose handled the singing duties, and it is hard to imagine another vocalist better suited for the job.
The sound was great, the songs were classics, the band — made of some of the best Nashville session players around) was impeccable, and as previously mentioned, Kristie Rose was incredible; however, without a doubt, the star of the show were Hoke’s masterful arrangements.
The opening four numbers — Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me,” “Lonely Street” (originally performed by Andy Williams), “Strange” (penned by Fred Burch and Mel Tillis, and originally recorded by Patsy Cline), and the Dorsey Burnette song “Hey Little One” — were a perfect showcase for the talent, and a preparation for what was to come. When Rose left the stage, the band delivered an inspired, instrumental version of the Cowboy classic, “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” which was written by Stan Jones in 1948.
Rose returned to the stage. and what followed was one of the most impressive moments of the whole show: Aqua Velvet performed “Folsom Prison Blues” in a way that Johnny Cash could have never foreseen. It was gorgeous, at times torchy, and yes, it was exotic. The appreciative, enthusiastic, knowledgeable Nashville crowd were visibly in awe of this unexpected, brilliant arrangement.
Following gorgeous versions of Bob Montgomery’s “Back in Baby’s Arms” and “I Really Don’t Want to Know” — which was popularized by Les Paul and Mary Ford — the band took time to celebrate the marriage (earlier in the day) of multi-instrumentalist Randy Leago. Leago and his bride were hoisted in chairs to the strains of the traditional Israeli celebration song, “Hava Nagila.” It was a spontaneous, joyful moment.
“Wayward Wind,” which was a 1956 hit for Gogi Grant, Leroy Van Dyke’s “Walk on By,” and Jack Scott’s “What in the World’s Come Over You,” were gorgeously arranged and transformed. Then, much of the band left the stage and Hoke, guitarist John England, and Dave Francis gathered at center stage to play the Sons of the Pioneer’s “Blue Prairie.”
The set ended with a powerful version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and “Ashes of Love,” a traditional bluegrass number. The latter song, which is usually upbeat was transformed by Hoke into what he described as a dirge.
The band left the stage and returned to close out the night with a stunning performance of “Ode to Billy Joe.” Once again, Hoke’s exotic arrangement, played to near-perfection by some of Nashville’s finest, was spectacular. But it was Kristie Rose’s virtuoso vocal performance that brought down the house. After she sang the last line, Rose exited the stage, confident that her work was done.