How Nashville Sounds in Tooting
It’s always a pleasant task reporting on the ever widening appeal of Americana and country music in the UK, in particular the real “roots” scene of small venues and the contact between artists and audiences through music and storytelling. So it gives me great pleasure to report from The Sound Lounge, an independent music and arts venue in Tooting, southwest London, where I went to see Nashville based singer-songwriter, Shantell Ogden. This date was the penultimate of her third UK tour where she performed as part of local musician and Sound Lounge promoter Dick Philpot’s monthly Americana night. Ogden goes beyond genre descriptions; in her crystal clear voice she communicates directly all the emotions we go through set to some very fine music.
An added bonus was to meet Ogden beforehand, a chat that proved a great insight into both the rigors and rewards of being a touring independent artist. What came across immediately was her love of music and writing. “I’ve always listened to country music, it’s been my soundtrack right from the start when I was growing up on a farm in Utah. I’d go out riding with my dad and grandpa who’d sing the old tunes like ‘Strawberry Roan,’” she told me. As for writing, “my mom always said I’d be a writer, I was always making up stories, it was my way of seeing the world.”
Merging that love of music and writing was easy. It was an evolutionary process; singing in coffee shops, playing in a group with friends, Berklee College of Music to learn the craft, then came the harder bit, pursuing this passion. That meant a move to Nashville in 2005, a place Ogden found both inspiring and depressing. “Inspiring because there was such an incredible community of songwriters but depressing because there were just so many. It was hard to find my own way. But I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
So what does she like writing about most? “Relationships offer great inspiration. I write about what’s personal to me, but my songs are real so the feelings are universal. Positive or negative, everyone has had the same experiences whether love, loss, grief, joy. I try to capture those moments.” After five albums, some musicians might fall into a pattern for writing, but not Ogden. “I write on my own and with others. In Nashville the norm for pro writers is to complete a song in a three hour session. Other songs take longer. My first few albums in Nashville took longer, the last three came out in successive years.”
Turning to producing albums, why does she stay independent? Wouldn’t it be easier to find a label? “Sure, but the trade-off is that labels want a say in what an artist does. I don’t want that. As a songwriter all you have is your own view on the world. I want to keep mine authentic to myself, no compromises. I do what I love, the way I want.” Ogden describes putting together her albums as preparing a meal. “I love to eat, so I like to put out a mix of savory, bittersweet, a bit of everything but they must all complement each other.”
And with that as the menu, we sat down to what turned out to be a feast. The Sound Lounge is intimate, a small stage with the audience mainly sitting around tables. It took Ogden no time to create a bond opening with “Road That Drives Me,” from her latest album release of the same name. Its relaxed pace eased her into “Devil Comes Knockin,” with a moody start that built into a rousing chorus warning, “don’t open the door, that’s the devil come knockin’”. On “Truth About Trains,” local musician and artist Jamie Freeman joined her and though we were in south London we could have been on one of the “Different Sides of the Mississippi,” a real lament about breaking up. The sad song is an Ogden speciality. In a similar vein came “Love Knew Better” and “Who Comes First.”
On a more contemplative level, “Ghosts in the Fields” was my favorite of the evening, because it mixes all those ingredients we discussed earlier. Perhaps tilting her Stetson to her days growing up in Utah, “‘Til My John Wayne Comes” took us back three albums to a more country feel. Ogden told me she didn’t work to a setlist but added songs to fit the mood. Maybe that’s why following her new single, the excellent “Heroes in My Hometown,” she finished with a singalong to “Stand By Me.” If I had to be harsh I’d have replaced that with another of her own compositions but perhaps it was a shrewd example of how to bond further. The reaction was entirely positive.
Shantell Ogden demonstrated tonight that while we may obsess over what’s country, Americana, etc., all that matters is the song. She blends the genres into an authentic, original sound around which she mixes her stories that are accessible to all.