Sometimes you can design a vividly detailed description of a song and then tell it with conversational ease and still not convey the full emotive beauty of the music.
It can happen, in fact, even to a master songsmith like Kim Richey. Last night, near the onset of a very inviting trio performance at Natasha’s, the Ohio native and longtime Nashvillian offered a visual backstory before The Circus Song (Can’t Let Go), a delight of a tune from her 2002 album Rise. It centered around a co-writer with an arm-length tattoo of a clown getting mauled by a lion. The illustration even came with its own title – Bad Day at the Circus. It was the sort of quirky, macabre remembrance you would expect from Lyle Lovett.
Yet the resulting music, painted with light shades of keyboards from Dan Mitchell and equally sparse percussion fills from Neilson Hubbard (who doubled on bass during the program and tripled offstage as the producer of Richey’s last two albums) kept quiet pace with the almost stoic vocal delivery to recall the finer music of Suzanne Vega. It was here where the song’s truly dark carnival spirits lurked.
Elsewhere, this fine 75 minute set drew from three prime sources. The first was an expert catalogue of songs, which extended from folkish revisions of the largely country material from Richey’s self-titled 1995 debut album (highlighted by These Words We Said and Just My Luck) to the more Americana slant of works off her newly released Thorn in My Side (especially the light country anguish of the title tune and Come On).
The second was the trio format, which gave an open and atmospheric slant to the music – an attribute capitalized on when Mitchell switched to flugelhorn for the elegantly weary London Town).
Capping it all was Richey’s extraordinary singing. Youthful and exuberant at times, schooled and worldly at others, her voice was effortlessly clear but boundlessly expressive throughout the show. A beautiful case in point: Reel Me In (another Rise song), which Richey colored with torchy shades of luscious blues cool. It was enough to make this summer evening feel downright autumnal.