Stacey Earle / Mark Stuart – Black Sheep Inn (Wakefield, Quebec)
The stage was a little more crowded than the last time Stacey Earle pulled into Wakefield, just north of Ottawa. As usual, guitarist and husband Mark Stuart was present. Earle’s youngest son, Kyle, played drums; Michael Webb handled bass and accordion. But with a second album under her belt, Earle also brought along a stack of new characters and stories.
Stuart, joined by Webb, primed the audience with a short opening set of tunes from his recent CD, Songs From A Corner Stage, including “Old Money” and “Boss Is Watchin'”. The capacity crowd hopped on board for the choruses, especially on Stuart’s loose-limbed cover of Hank Williams’ “Move It On Over”.
As an evening breeze drifted across the winding country road and through the inn’s front door, the “gearle” took over, revealing more about her internal and external life in 90 minutes of songs and anecdotes than many performers do in a decade. “Some people keep a diary or journal; I write songs,” she explained.
The opener, “Promise You Anything”, exploded with the drive and good humor that propelled Earle through 270 dates in 1999, a continent-wide marathon she’s repeating this year. Flashing smiles at Stuart that would have melted an icecap, Earle toasted mature commitment in the disarmingly direct “Is It Enough (I Luuuv You)” and the cautionary “Kiss Her Goodnight”.
“No New Shoes” found Earle glancing fondly and a little wistfully back at the girl she once was, a child whose dream of holding center stage has finally come true and for whom that red dress still holds talismanic power. Earle prefaced “Makes Me Happy” by noting that she wrote the song to celebrate the release of her debut album — “the first thing I ever did for myself” after years in the trenches as a single parent and behind-the-scenes songwriter. “Wedding Night” throbbed with prenuptial urgency (again, a warm glance at Stuart), while the perennially fresh “Simple Gearle” turned a slightly tongue-in-cheek spotlight on a deliriously content young mother and wife.
Her performance netted her three encores, the last of which, “Just Another Day”, with its calm center, reassuring circularity and simple images, left the audience hushed and reflecting on the fulfillment that can come from an ordinary life well-lived.