Sera Cahoone, Star Anna, others celebrate Wine, Women & Song in Seattle
There have been so many tribute nights lately in Seattle, usually focused on one artist at a time – Johnny Cash, Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Sr., and on and on. Everybody likes to hear a lesser known artist nail the work of a legend, and musicians like to play their favorite songs by other people. It seems like a win-win. Often, though, I find these tribute shows to be predictable and less impressive than seeing the same artists take meaningful turns on the songs they’ve written themselves.
But, some of my favorite local singer-songwriters (Sera Cahoone, Star Anna, Betsy Olson, Kristen Ward) had joined the lineup for another tribute this past Friday, so I headed out. Luckily, this one was pulled together by local promoter Debra Heesch, whom locals may know from the Patsy Cline tribute she worked on last year (among other things). As it turned out, this tribute night was time well spent. Though some performances decidedly outshone others, it’s hard to go wrong with this much talent in one room.
Cahoone (who will be opening our No Depression Festival in August) kicked off this evening with Loretta Lynn’s “Wine, Women and Song.” Though it made sense, given the title of the show and the fact that Cahoone is a fan of Lynn’s work, this performance was quickly outshone by her turn on Gillian Welch’s “Wayside/Back in Time” later on. The only drawback was some faulty bass playing, which was more noticeable to my ears in video from the performance than it was at the time. Nonetheless, Cahoone’s a pro and pulled off her end of the tune as such. She also one-upped her own Loretta Lynn cover with another, more notable one: “Trouble on the Line” (still waiting to see video of that one).
Rather than each artist hitting the stage for four songs in a row, building toward a headliner at the end of the night, this show was organized more on the flow of the set list. As a result, the focus shifted quickly and appropriately from the artists to the work they were presenting.
Unsurprisingly, given Seattle’s musical climate and the artists on the bill, a few people chose Lucinda Williams songs. Of them, the most memorable was Olson’s “Can’t Let Go,” which moved several couples to create their own dance floors.
Though I generally file Olson under “mad guitar skills,” she kept the axe a bit subdued for this show, yielding more often to the impressive skill of house band guitarist Jeff Fielder. Still, her cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “Mighty Tight Woman” was worth mentioning for the sheer fact that nobody else in town carries Raitt’s torch quite like Olson.
Another notable moment was Barbara Ireland‘s cover of “St. James Infirmary Blues” – a tune I know chiefly from the version Louis Armstrong (not a woman) made famous. Not sure whether Ireland was moved to cover this because of Billie Holladay’s version or that by Janis Joplin, but both women definitely deserve the tribute. And, at any rate, Ireland’s cover – slow as molasses and just as dark – was one of the night’s easy highlights.
Other highlights included the brief appearance from Kristen Ward. Backed by her guitarist Gary Westlake, she delivered a terrific version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” which has become somewhat of a staple on her set list, and rightfully so. Ward’s voice nails melancholy, so sweetly and honest. Also as notable, in contrast, breaking slightly from the heavy Americana bent of the night, Star Anna killed a cover of “Rip Her to Shreds” by Blondie, featuring Duff McKagan (Guns n’ Roses) on guitar. I wanted to share a video of that, but, as of this blog post, it wasn’t edited and ready for sharing yet. So, instead, I’ll leave you with her lovely and introspective acoustic turn on Neko Case’s “Wish I was the Moon”: