It sounds crass to liken the CMA Songwriters Series to the TV show Nashville and yet the line up, which features country star Martina McBride alongside songwriters Bob DiPiero and Brett James and rising stars Striking Matches, makes it irresistible to draw comparisons. Whilst McBride is billed as the star of the show, it only takes one song for Striking Matches to command the stage as theirs, leaving them the rightful stars of the night.
Whilst McBride delivers some of her more heartfelt numbers including number 1 hit Blessed (which sees co-writer James offer accompaniment for the first time) and an ode to her children in Teenage Daughters, it’s not long before the cracks show. Forgetting the words in There You Are would be forgivable, as would a few shaky notes, but when your career is based around your voice these slips ups come across as signs that the crown is slipping. In fairness to McBride it’s not a bad performance but nestled in such an outstanding line up at times she falls flat, simply by comparison.
Brett James on the other hand leaves me only to question why his only release was in 1995, his efforts since then focused on writing rather than recording. Tonight his voice proves more than worthy of a singing career, especially when he’s belting out Mr. Know It All (which became a hit for Kelly Clarkson). Meanwhile the softer, Jesus, Take The Wheel shows James’ capacity to pen heartfelt numbers and his rendition conveys the deep emotion of the song. Whilst Out Last Night adds a lighter moment into his song choices, it further confirms James’ capacity to co-pen numbers for a variety of artists and that he’s worthy of more accolade than he’s yet to receive as a performer in his own right.
Bob DiPiero on the other hand is a man who needs no introductions, his list of credentials stacking up to an impressive number. Though his opener Southern Voice struggles a bit with the guitar being mixed in too high, this is counterbalanced by a noteworthy rendition of You Can’t Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl. Nevertheless it’s Gone (a hit for Montgomery Gentry) which is the highlight of his picks, especially when Striking Matches join in tearing up the musical interlude.
It’s this musical ability from the young duo which is most impressive. Whilst their songwriting holds enough strength to be used within the Nashville TV show, it’s their musicianship which carries their songs. The often frantic guitar parts weave in and over each others, and couple with their voices to create faultless numbers. From the opening bars of Trouble Is As Trouble Does it’s clear this is a duo to watch, and this is simply confirmed with each of their song choices. Whether it’s the softer When The Right One Comes Along or the the more frenzied Make A Liar Out Of Me, I’m left watching with awe and an awareness that this band are not going to be known as the new kids on the country scene for long.
Interestingly the expressions on McBride’s face says it all when they perform, a mixture of awe and fear. Had the night drawn on much longer I could almost foresee a Rayna Jaymes/Juliette Barnes rivalry breaking out in the middle of the venue. Thankfully it’s left with everyone getting their moment to shine and as McBride rounds of with Independence Day she manages to reconfirm her place as one of country’s greatest stars.
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