Tin Pan South is a somewhat under-the-radar Nashville songwriter festival now in its 21st year. Meant to showcase the writers behind the hits “past, present and future,” this event seems to bring more tourists to town than attract locals. The Listening Room, one of this year’s host venues, is a “wannabe” Bluebird, now in its third Nashville location on the non-touristy side of Second Ave. The lovely rectangular room features an excellent sound system and a tall stage that makes for not a bad seat in the house.
Nights like this are sometimes called an “in the round” or a “guitar-pull.” But tonight the four local songwriters sat across in a straight line and each had their own guitar. In turn, each performed five of their songs and were most times backed by one of the others, loosely, or in a few cases, by invitation on ones they co-wrote or recorded together. I generally have little patience listening to unfamiliar songwriters singing unfamiliar songs or ones made more famous by their cover artist. So my attraction tonight was an artist I have heard many times, Daniel Tashian, front man for pop band The Silver Seas. Tonight was sponsored by his publishing company, Big Yellow Dog Music, and additionally featured three of their female writers.
As for the gals, I was a fan of Mindy Smith, had knowledge of Kate York but was new to Jill Andrews. As things got underway, Ms. Smith accurately foreshadowed how an evening of three girls was sure to produce a lot of sad songs. Ms. Andrews later added how sad songs just seemed easier to write and Ms. York’s contributions added to the sadness. Mr. Tashian, who also served as the night’s witty and sarcastic master of ceremonies, in contrast provided some joy through his cheerful and lively pop songs.
Ms. York is a gifted and successful writer who tonight played two beautiful ballads featured in the current Nashville television series: “Stronger than Me,” written for classic-country character Rayna James, and “Nothing in the World,” written for her nemesis, sassy-pop country character Juliette Barnes. Ms. York is more of a writer than a player. As a result she had to pass on a request since she simply couldn’t play some of its complex chords that were contributed by her co-writer. She also performed “Can’t Go Back,” a reflective tome covered by country band, Little Big Town. Her final number was a duet with Mr. Tashian, “Don’t Stop Talking to My Heart,” a song from their under-development Skyline Motel band project during which they fearlessly struggled to remember the lyrics.
Ms. Andrew’s performance was a pleasant surprise. Doing her best to fulfill Ms. Smith’s prophecy about sad songs, she delivered some heart-felt personal odes to difficult and failed relationships. Like the other writers, she aptly followed the “in-the-round” tradition of introducing her songs with the details of how each song was written. Standing out was “I’m Not OK,” a “cold co-write” with then stranger Trent Dabbs who she now calls a friend.
Never shy for words, the hosting Mr. Tashian seemed to do his best to not keep things moving. With dry comments like “Are you guys familiar with the Internet,” describing his overseas co-write process with pal Josh Rouse on “Roxy,” his wit was warm and engaging. He was also overly humble when offering the customary courtesy of complementing the song before him. To my personal delight, he premiered three songs from the upcoming Silver Seas record while also providing the evening’s musical highlight with one from their back catalog, “Somebody Said Your Name.” For this one, he succeeded in getting the crowd to provide a clapping backbeat. Likewise, his up-tempo melody and falsetto chorus provided a nice diversion from the somewhat somber fare of the evening. Another highlight was his duet with Ms. Smith on “Taking You with Me,” a song they sang together on the soundtrack to the 2011 film Our Idiot Brother. Seldom, if ever performed, he did a great job of helping her through the lyrics by visually mouthing the words to her during her rough spots!
The featured act of the night was Ms. Smith who seemed to have the most fans in attendance. Boldly opening with a new song, she joked how if she sang it first, she could make up for it later! Although she made it through the new work just fine, she did keep her promise by closing the night with “Come to Jesus,” a radio hit and her signature song. In between she satisfied with a further mix of old and new including a nice duet with Mr. Tashian on one of their co-writes, “Pretending the Stars.” There are many who don’t understand Nashville “co-write” culture. She nicely summed up the method by saying “You wind up with something better than if you kept it to yourself.”
The show ended just in time for the crowd to exit out and make room for the late show. Tonight’s set was a fine reflection of the community and collaboration of the young and talented writers currently residing in Music City.
- Stay with Me (Kate York)
- My Love is For (Jill Andrews)
- Alaska (Daniel Tashian)
- Some Things I’d Rather Not Know (Mindy Smith)
- Stronger Than Me (Kate York)
- Sweet Troubled Man (Jill Andrews)
- Roxy (Daniel Tashian)
- Pretending the Stars (Mindy Smith)
- Can’t Go Back (Kate York)
- Back Home (Jill Andrews)
- Taking You With Me (Daniel Tashian)
- Out Loud (Mindy Smith)
- Nothing in this World (Kate York)
- I’m Not OK (Jill Andrews)
- I’m the One (Daniel Tashian)
- Tennessee (Mindy Smith)
- Don’t Stop Talking to My Heart (Kate York)
- Are You Ready to Leave (Jill Andrews)
- Somebody Said Your Name (Daniel Tashian)
- Come to Jesus (Mindy Smith)