So, let me start out this review by saying I hold Kathy Mattea as an important part of my dating ritual. Whenever I start dating a new woman and the relationship passes the coffee-and-chat stage, I play Ms. Mattea’s little ditty “Where’ve You Been” for my new conquest. Without a doubt, the combination of Ms. Mattea’s heavenly voice with the saddest lyrics I’ve ever heard makes for a double whammy of emotional distress. If the female in questions cries, gets all red-eyed, or breaks down in an uncontrolled sob then I know she’s a keeper. If she shows no emotion then I know that this relationship was not meant to be.

Is that a little unfair? I dunno. When Mattea broke into that song last Saturday night, I heard a sustained amount of sniffling from every direction around me.

I think it’s criminal that Kathy Mattea and her accompanist Bill Cooley played to about a hundred and twenty people the other night. Their talent spilled off that small stage at The Tangier and wrapped around the audience, not letting go for almost two hours. Maybe I’m jaded, but when Kanye West can pack Quicken Loans Arena with his very discernible lack of talent yet Mattea can barely fill a room something is seriously wrong in the music business. Yeah, yeah…defend Kanye. He’s a great producer and able to spot talent but on his own his, uh, singing leaves something to be desired.

Not needing auto-tune or a litany of recording engineers to make her sound special, Kathy Mattea is an old-school songstress in the vein of both Ann Murray and Helen Reddy. Her background is Country, both vocally and her roots in Charleston, West Virginia, but her stage presence is akin to Vegas. Her zingers, both self-deprecating and charming, peppered the performance. Her stage partner, guitarist Bill Cooley, played a very-stripped down concert. The lighting package, simple and awash with white stage light, would never be mistaken for a KISS show. While Cooley played lead and she nimbly backed him up with her riffing, she told us from the start that this was “more about being real than being perfect.”

But, of course, it was both. Their set list was scrawled with a black marker on a big white sheet of paper; she asked the audience what they wanted to hear during the encore; she meandered in and out of the white spot that bathed her in a light of which many ladies over the age of forty wouldn’t be comfortable.

When she covered Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe,” she mentioned that it was “just a little ditty about suicide in the Deep South,” then went on to slay the song with that alto voice. As the night progressed, she said that we were “killing” too many people, a nod to the number of deaths and gloom in many of her songs and, more succinctly, the Country music tradition.

After pointing out to us that she was getting, yikes, a little older she mentioned that she hired a vocal coach to get her to the places that she used to go when she was a young woman. But her voice shined through the nearly two hour performance without a crack, spike, or hitch.

It saddens me that such a small crowd showed up for this show…in a year where I’ve seen everyone from the likes of McCartney, Dolly Parton, and Loretta Lynn, and have truly claimed stake to “best show of the year” on more than one occasion, this one was  truly one of the best shows I’ve attended. When she makes her way back to Northeast Ohio, make sure that you grab a ticket.

This is music as it’s meant to be experienced. The production values don’t rest in fancy lights or pyrotechnics. The magic comes from Cooley’s guitar playing and Mattea’s voice. If they could be bottled and harnessed we’d immediately end our dependence on other energy sources.

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Brian Lumley has been a photographer for almost fifteen years. He started shooting national parks and landscapes in late 2000 and gravitated towards concert photography in 2010. Holding a Bachelors Degree in Film Studies from Bowling Green State University, he worked in the motion picture industry for a short while before realizing that still images were more interesting to him than moving ones.