Boy, I saw something Sunday night that was worthy of a Country tune in itself: Out on tour to support the release of her new album, Rule 62, Canadian-cum-Austin chanteuse Whitney Rose and her band, William Meadows on lead guitar; Mike Molnar (a Cleveland native) on rhythm guitar; Chris Sensat behind the kit; Andrew Pacheco on bass, hadn’t a wedding band on any of those five left-handed fingers. They’re an assembly of young musicians plying their trade and, unfortunately, played to a pitifully-small crowd gathered at the Beachland Ballroom’s Tavern space, a smallish room propped up by a bar on one side and a long, unadorned wall to stage right.
This, I suppose, is the genesis of many a Country tune. However, even if the crowd was small the performance wasn’t. The quintet played as if they were center stage at Woodstock; plowing through a twenty-two song set, the young singer didn’t have too much banter with her audience. She let the songs, plainly, speak for them. Lead guitarist Meadows shone on his six-string, which he amply showcased throughout the set. Hometown boy Molnar had a cheering section to my left; his parents brought a few friends and mom’s smile beamed whenever her son got to let his skills shine on a guitar solo.
Raised in eastern Canada, her grandparents owned a bar whose juke churned out old C&W tunes. Taking this love of her grandparents and George Jones, she left the balmy climes known for the Aurora Borealis and Anne of Green Gables fame, and headed south to Texas.
Rose, a thirty-something singer/songwriter in the old school vein (think Tammy Wynette or Dolly Parton) knows how to pen a tune. Although heartbreak is a large part of the milieu, a mid-set stunner called “Trucker’s Funeral” told a story about two families, unknown to each other, gathering together for a father’s funeral. The deceased, a trucker, kept two separate families for three decades and neither wife had an inkling the other existed. Rose confided in us that she was told this story when she opened up her first checking account in Austin. Being a songwriter, she knew that her banker’s story was instant gold. And what a song it is.
If there were a nit to pick, I suppose it would be that Rose seemed a little stiff on stage from time to time. Perhaps she’s a little bashful. Maybe it’s a grueling touring schedule that puts you halfway across the country in a few days’ time. I’m not complaining mind you, I recently listened to Queen’s Live at the Rainbow disc and, as it was early in Freddie’s frontman days, didn’t have the polish that we came to know and love later in Queen’s reign. Take a look at Wembley ’86 and see what a dramatic difference in Mercury’s total command of the audience. If you read this Whitney, take heart: You’re a fantastic singer. Smile at the audience a little more and you’ll have them eating out of your palm by Halloween.
What struck me as the best part of the evening was the in-your-face honesty displayed on that little stage. The lighting wasn’t very bright, the tavern was sparsely filled, and there were distractions in the form of several people talking out loud during the set. But there was something going on in spite of all of that; these are five young and talented musicians, pouring their heart into something they want to make happen. These are the shows that I like best: When the magic isn’t made from a litany of dancers or a dazzling light show but from a small group of musicians doing what they do best, even when he crowd isn’t much bigger than the defensive line of a college football game.
With a handful of albums under her belt and a name being recognized within the industry (she has her own Wikipedia page, for god’s sake!), I see big things happening for both Whitney Rose and her band. I just wish people would clamor to some of these newer artists and stop flocking to Blossom for the over-the-top, over-produced “Bro” Country acts that have dominated the Country scene for the last twenty years or so.
There’s a tear in her beer and she knows how to tell the world about it. Old school style.