Joy Lynn White – Buckboard Country Music Showcase (Smyrna, GA)
For a long time, friends have been saying I should hear Joy Lynn White, a spunky young, underappreciated country diva from Arkansas. I finally did. For an even longer time they’ve been saying I should read High Fidelity, Nick Hornby’s funny and touching first novel about a pop-culture-enslaved, list-making North London record shop owner named Rob. I finally did that, too. Oddly, these two seemingly disparate events somehow converge.
Hornby’s Rob is in lust with Marie LaSalle, a young, expatriate American country singer who’s living in England in order to escape acute indifference back home. Of course, she’s so soulful, even her arch cover of Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way” makes Rob cry. And when his erstwhile girlfriend Laura hears Marie, she exclaims, “But she’s brilliant. Why don’t more people know about her?”, Rob can only answer, “You need pretty good taste to see how great she is, I suppose, and most people haven’t got that.”
Playing the Buckboard in the four-lane blacktop Atlanta suburb of Smyrna, Joy Lynn White has at least five big obstacles to get past: 1) It’s Thursday night. 2) She’s on an acoustic package tour with Little Dog labelmates Scott Joss and Jim Matt. 3) They’ve driven all night to get here. 4) There are maybe 40 people in the place. 5) Half are on the guest list; the other half are shooting pool.
In spite of all this — maybe even because of it — White is suddenly a red-headed angel serving up 190 proof ice water in hell. Her new disc, The Lucky Few, grasps country music as a true existential weapon. And on this slanted and enchanted evening, she tears into a majority of songs from the album with that same bruised heart blend of sweetness and sarcasm. She jokes about not being able to play guitar and introduces the title song — a beautiful losers anthem if ever there was one — saying, “This is the story of my life.”
Stylistically she resembles Lucinda Williams, a comparison driven home by her wide-open rendering of Williams’ “I Just Wanted To See You So Bad.” On songs such as “It’s About Me” and Gwil Owen’s “I Doubt If It Does To You”, though, she unleashes her gorgeous, full-bodied voice into realms well beyond the reach of most contemporary singers. And ultimately it’s her melismatic gospel cover of Jim Lauderdale’s “Why Do I Love You” that quiets the cueballs and brings the rest of us to our feet, joining her in the grateful abandon of a tiny triumph.
I decide then and there: If High Fidelity ever gets made into a film, Joy Lynn White should play Marie LaSalle.