by Lauryn Smith
In early ’07, when I frequented bars more regularly, I found myself finishing a beer alone as my friend had to leave hurriedly and unexpectedly. A man beside me, Alex, began to make small talk. Initially, I was someone abrasive and standoffish, making it clear I wasn’t interested in being “picked up.” He told me he was there to unwind before heading home, further telling me he had just returned from listening to an obscure band at a local bar. I was familiar with the band as Aware Records had sent me a copy of their album. Talking about music is a sure fire way to remove my guard. He asked me of my favorite album of all time and I stated, “Fat City by Shawn Colvin.” Most are unfamiliar with this particular album. (Side note #1: Shawn is well known for “Sunny Came Home,” which I think sucks. It’s a shame because Fat City is uh-mazing.) The stranger at the bar was not only familiar, but also a fan of the album. He recommended Brandi Carlile, an artist I was familiar with (even owned one of her albums,) though I was not impressed. Disappointed he asked me to listen to one of her newer songs, in his car. Stupidly, I joined him. I could’ve been cut up in little pieces. I’m smarter now. Fortunately, no little pieces to speak of, uh obviously.
The song he shared was “The Story.” It made the hair on my arms stand up. We exchanged numbers and I agreed to purchase the full album (the single was available already.) A few days later, Aware Records mailed me a copy of the entire album The Story days before it was available to the general public. (Side note #2: Aware is a subsidiary of Columbia Records. Aware is also John C. Mayer’s label. Years ago, I signed up as a “rep.” They send me albums and I provide honest feedback. If I love it, I spread the word. If I really love it, ahem, I blog about it. ) I called Alex to share the serendipitous coincidence (say those two words together seven times as fast as you can.) He said, “Listen to ‘Wasted.” While driving, song five, “Wasted,” played, forcing me to pull my car over to read the lyrics. (Side note #3: I’ve since shared this album with many and it is one of the few albums that appeals to everyone. Buy it. Thank me later.)
In the following weeks Alex and I spent a great deal of time together. Most conversations surrounded music. Most “dates” involved live music or sharing songs with one another in that “I-knooow-you’re-gonna-love-this-one” fashion. Alex is nearly 14 years older than me, however our musical tastes are completely parallel. Great music is timeless, ageless. He introduced me to Jonatha Brooke who does a killer rendition of Allan Parsons “Eye in the Sky.” I listened to it on repeat until I wore out the lasered grooves on the CD. I introduced him to John Mayer and Just Off Turner. He was my musical soul mate. Alex made me two “mixed tapes”- er CDs and I still find myself listening to them. Alex travels on a regular basis, allowing him to see many cities. As a result, he’s seen Brandi play a million times in a million different cities. He invited me to see her in Dallas. I scheduled time off work, had grown addicted to her album, and was really looking forward to seeing her live. The day before our Dallas (mis)adventure, Alex calls and disinvites me. He mentions reuniting with an ex-girlfriend while noting it as best we no longer keep in touch. True story.
Initially, I was upset because of him. Fortunately, the feeling was fleeting and I became upset at the lost opportunity to see Brandi. I received (still do) updates via email from a little bar, Newbies, in Memphis. It has a “Juanita’s” feel and many great artists have played there. I discover Brandi is playing there on a random week night. I encourage my friend Kelly to hop in the car and join me. She accepts the invite. I feared Alex would be there but decide to go anyway.
As I leaned against the stage in between songs (yes, I was inches away from the band,) I complimented Tim Hanseroth’s (guitarist) tattoo—the Auryn (like my name!) medallion from the Never Ending Story, my favorite childhood movie. Shockingly, Tim squats down and says, “Wow! No one ever knows the Auryn! That is awesome!” I talk with him a bit after the show and he introduces us to Brandi. She isn’t feeling well but I never would have known. Her voice was perfect and she was very kind, gracious. I asked of why she’s never played in Little Rock as the majority of her fans at the Memphis show are Little Rockers. She notes (after singing “Little Rock,”) “We’ve had trouble finding a venue.” I saw her last year at Robinson. Kelly and I joined her band mates for a few games of pool. Alex may have seen her live a million times but I’m betting he’s never played pool with the band. Eat your heart out.
Brandi Carlile and me post show at Newbie's in Memphis, Tennessee.
Josh Neumann (Cello.) Note the pool stick. Really friendly guy.
The "Auryn" from the Never Ending Story.
With Kelly. Toga Party. We always have fun.
Brandi released her latest album “Give Up the Ghost” last Tuesday. I attempted to buy it immediately, but apparently Little Rock has finally caught on as it was sold out everywhere I attempted to purchase it. Alex sent me a message telling me the new album is excellent. Bragger. I shared my misfortune of not yet owning it. I also mentioned continued search efforts had to be placed on hold as I was singing at the Afterthought that evening. Surprisingly, Alex received my message while at another Kavanaugh venue. He dropped in to say hello. He also bragged some more about the album.
Yesterday, while at lunch, I located and purchased the new album. It is flawless. It’s one of those albums containing songs I don’t skip ahead to the next song before the song plays entirely. Two weeks before my neighbor broke my heart, I gave him the Brandi CD that placed her in my “favorite artists” category. I bought a few copies for friends that day too. Though the original was good, her second album was great, her latest is divine. Three songs in particular, “Before it Breaks,” “I Will,” and “Touching the Ground” are songs I wish I had written myself. Elton John plays piano on one song, “Caroline.” If Elton is jamming out on the keys on one of your songs, you have made it.
This is yet another example of that in which we take away, the songs. I don’t connect Brandi’s music to Alex, which is somewhat peculiar. I’ve shared her with so many and yet, in many ways, I still feel as though I am the only one who has ever heard her sing. Her music is that personal for me. She is bluegrass, soul, rock, country. She has mass appeal. The voice is familiar and I identify with the lyrics, but I sit back and smile, knowing every song is new for me. I love paving the road of nostalgia with new asphalt. Give up the ghost indeed.