Precious Bryant – Station Inn (Nashville, TN)
If Nashville’s majestic Ryman Auditorium, with its long wooden pews and stained-glass windows, is country music’s mother church, then the Station Inn, with its dim lights, battered tables and Hatch Show Print-covered paneling, is that church’s funky basement rec room. And while the high-impact evangelists (Johnny & June, Emmylou et al.) understandably got the most notice during the Americana Music Association’s third annual convention, an understated, unadorned voice provided the weekend’s purest moment of transcendence.
Precious Bryant was perfectly attuned to the Station Inn’s environment, quietly sipping a pre-gig longneck beer at the side of the stage. She had never in her 60 years played Nashville; she rarely plays far from her southwest Georgia home. But once she took center stage, clad in a loose-fitting sweatsuit, her big hollowbody Epiphone cradled across her lap, she brought the good news in abundance.
Bryant plays a regional variant of country blues rooted in her Chattahoochee River Valley home. Originals and covers alike are suffused with warmth and vitality as she thrums out jaunty rhythms and picks deft melodies across the top. Her voice settles over the contours of the music like a quilt, her soulful delivery lovingly wrapping the songs in maternal gentleness.
Playing mostly selections from her new CD Fool Me Good (Terminus Records), Bryant repeatedly enjoined the crowd to “put your hands together if you feel like it.” Her sneakered foot keeping time, she plucked out uniquely engaging versions of “It’s Alright”, “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Fever”.
Two-thirds of the way through her set, fate threw her a curveball — which she deftly smashed out of the park for a home run. Near the beginning of her version of Blind Willie McTell’s “Broke And Ain’t Got A Dime”, the bridge on her guitar broke. Undaunted, she passed the guitar stage right for repairs and launched into an a cappella version of “Don’t Let The Devil Ride”. The crowd clapped and stomped along, happily complying with her request for support, then upped the ante: a harmonica, in perfect tune, wafted in from the back of the room. Someone at a nearby table added a shaker (or was it really just ice in a plastic cup?). Electricity filled the air. Bryant embraced it, it buoyed her, then she folded it back into a rousing unaccompanied version of “When The Saints Go Marching In”, the rising tide of audience handclaps spurring her into freeform rhythmic testifying. It was the best kind of church.
She got her repaired guitar back in time to do a version of “Black Rat Swing” (from her album), then closed with “Goin’ Up The Country”, which she claimed to have learned just recently from hearing on the radio, or perhaps TV…it didn’t matter. This night, the song was hers; all the songs were hers.