I have only watched American Idol a handful of times. While I have never become hooked onto it, I did find an artist in Season 8 that I really liked, Paul McDonald. He’s a real cool dude with a raspy voice and a folk-rock, bluesy style of song. While I loved his covers of Maggie May and Folsom Prison Blues on Idol, I believe that McDonald has enough talent and ability to captivate audiences on his own merit.
When the opportunity came to see him perform live, I jumped at it as I’ve been a fan of The Grand Magnolias, his former band that was recently revived, for years. I had also been playing The Best Part for a few weeks, the EP released by he and wife Nikki Reed (Rosalie from the Twilight saga).
They performed at The Loveless Cafe in Nashville for a weekly program called Music City Roots. If you ever find yourself in Nashville on a Wednesday night, I highly encourage you to check this place out. Tickets were only $10, and they offer great food and drinks before and during the show at reasonable prices. The atmosphere was very welcoming and relaxed, allowing you to feel right at home. Perhaps most importantly, you get more than your money’s worth of talent with five acts performing about five songs each.
What is Music City Roots? Here is how they explain it: “Music City Roots, Live From The Loveless Cafe is a weekly, two-hour radio show that revives the historic legacy of live musical radio production in Nashville. Broadcast on Wednesday nights from 7pm to 9pm, CST, Music City Roots, Live From The Loveless Cafe showcases Nashville’s astonishing music scene, from country and Americana to more progressive interpreters of tradition — a “roots and branches” format that brings together fans of different tastes and generations. Presented live from the stage of the Loveless Barn, this show will showcase purveyors of authenticity across many genres.”
Bill Mize started things off with his phenomenal guitar picking. With my eyes closed and my ears doing all the work, it sounded like he had at least two other guitarists and a drummer with him. Yet when I opened my eyes, all that was before me was a man on a chair, playing his guitar, knowing every trick and ability his old friend had.
Langhorne Slim, the fourth performer, impressed me with his artistry. Letting the music lead him, the troubadour travels across the United States to find inspiration and explore what the world has to offer. He was also the first of the performers to involve himself with the audience by walking down the center aisle during his song Past Lives and inviting the group to sing with him. Though the song’s subject matter of mortality may seem a bit, well, morbid, Slim used his audience engagement to bring about a sense of unity and to declare optimism.
By the time McDonald came onstage, the audience was well warmed up and ready to hear more. He began with American Dreams, my personal favorite from his band, The Grand Magnolias. The song was inspired by a girl McDonald encountered in NYC who had not come from much but was determined enough to leave all that she knew behind her to pursue her version of the American dream. Seeing it performed live was just as heartwarming and encouraging as I had hoped. McDonald moved on to a newer song of his, Girl Upstairs, enlisting the help of two backup singers and his wife, Nikki Reed, where they used their smooth sound to sing about the girl upstairs that is leaving because she is unhappy with her situation to which McDonald tells her “you can have everything if you’re gonna go.” Reed stayed onstage with McDonald to sing two of their love duets off their EP All I’m Asking and The Best Part, Reed is credited for writing the majority of the latter. Not only do their voices compliment one another’s extremely well, but the light, chill nature of the songs make for perfect, peaceful listening as well as their great lyrics.
To give you an idea about their lyrics, I’ve included two of my favorites. The first is from The Best Part in which Reed sings, “Tell me, friend, can you feel me? ‘Cause my love’s strong enough to breath so far from me.” Though they’re pretty straightforward, they enable the listener to feel the strength of Reed’s feelings for her husband in just two short sentences. Another favorite is from Now That I’ve Found You, their first song. “And I can’t help what time has done and how long I’ve had to wait. Now I’ve found your hand in mine. I hope I didn’t come too late.” Again, they are straightforward, but I like how they are phrased and how well each phrase is paired with the beat of the song.
The night ended in Music City Roots fashion with the Loveless Jam, where all the artists that perform team up to sing one group song. They chose the classic Rolling Stones song You Can’t Always Get What You Want. It was a nice touch and a perfect way to end the night.
You can find any of these artists on iTunes or Spotify. Paul McDonald is currently on tour with Hanson. From what I’ve read, people are just as impressed with him as I am. I’ve even heard that Reed may join him for a few shows.
P.S. McDonald and Reed were an absolute delight to meet. The only evidence that Reed was apart of a major franchise was the hoards of Twihards that filled the outside hall, anxiously waiting to meet their favorite vampire. She was super sweet and has even tweeted at me a few times since. Similarly, McDonald was super cool to talk to, and I wished we had had more time to discuss our shared musical interests (like Ten Out of Tenn). Should future opportunities come about, it’d be a delight to work with them (in my case, it would be in either marketing or management) since I feel they have a lot to offer the music world in terms of sound, lyricism, their opinions on music, and their overall good-naturedness.