Out of the 12 artists that took turns swapping songs last night at the Opera House during the three-and-a-half hour Acoustic Jam 2015 benefit for the Kentucky Children’s Hospital, the show-stealer was the songwriter that adhered least to modern Nashville formulas and most to an often abandoned sense of country tradition.
The victor, by a country mile, was Brandy Clark, the veteran songwriter who has penned tunes for celebs like Miranda Lambert, The Band Perry and Reba McEntire but has revealed herself over the past three years as a vocal stylist with similar shadings of tradition and narrative cunning.
The crowning moment last night, quite fittingly, was a song no one had heard – a new single scheduled for February from an album not due until April. Titled Girl Next Door, it was a tale of unapologetic defiance and ragged confidence that suggested Loretta Lynn’s edgier songs in terms of temperament. “If you want the girl next door,” Clark sang with almost sardonic reserve, “then go next door.”
Clark’s recently Grammy nominated Hold Your Hand (a loving ode to country innocence) and Get High (the exact opposite) completed her three song set.
To be honest, the only other artist that even approximated Clark’s musical distinction was newcomer Drake White, whose singing was ripe with the soul inflections of his native Alabama. Then again, the other artists (Craig Campbell, Chase Bryant and RaeLynn) he performed alongside during the evening’s first set of round-robin performances constituted such a snoozefest of stoic sentimentality and grossly pop reared convention that the rootsy drive White summoned couldn’t help serve as a jolt.
It’s not that there weren’t other appealing moments. Regional hero John Michael Montgomery had the eyes of all other performers from the evening’s second round (Scotty McCreery, Keifer Thompson and Lauren Alaina) firmly focused his way as he delivered a quietly solemn reading of Letter From Home. There was also a refreshingly hardened toughness to Easton Corbin’s A Little More Country Than That and Jerrod Niemann’s One More Drinkin’ Song during the show’s final round. That lineup also featured Clark and a largely overblown performance by Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelly.
But this night clearly belonged to Clark, the girl next door that that left everyone else in the December dust.