Sierra Ferrell is performing a three concert set of livestreams under the theme “Pick Your Poison.” The first of these “Poisons” was Honky Tonk music, and took place on Sunday April 18th via Mandolin from the American Legion Post 82 in Nashville, TN. The other events and their “Poisons” will be Calypso Night at Dee’s Lounge on May 2nd and Jazz Night at The Basement on May 16th. The concert series also features special commemorative merch and, on the whole, is leading up to Ferrell’s debut album this spring or summer from Rounder Records. The first singles, “Jeremiah” and “Why’d You Do It,” have already been released.
For the Honky Tonk musical performance, Ferrell was joined by members of the Yardbones on fiddle and upright bass but also joined by special guest Timbo, for duets and instrumentals. The Honky Tonk music featured during the performance was, for the most part, a selection of classics, but that was also enlivened by original songs by Ferrell and others, forming an interesting tapestry of tradition bringing us up to current day.
After a couple of songs that introduced the properly melancholy mood of relationships gone awry, Ferrell’s new song, written last summer, “Why Haven’t You Loved Me Yet?” blended in very well. While the lyrics brought an interesting twist to the idea of forlorn love, the beat also introduced extra energy. Classics like “More and More” and “How I’d Love To Be Alone with You” continued with a reflective tone before Ferrell’s song, written with Oliver Bates Craven, “Whispering Walls” took an even deeper dive into introspective emotion with an almost gothic sensibility. The performers clearly relished digging into the varied perspectives on love and loss and showed plenty of virtuosity in their instrumental interludes as well on classic pieces.
Their take on some of Dolly Parton’s work was particularly powerful, from “Here I Am,” which upended the sorrowful tone of many Honky Tonk songs by instead offering haven through a relationship, to “Old Flames” sung by Audrey McAlpine which reaffirmed the strength of a relationship in comparison to past, lesser “flames.” Particularly interesting to play alongside these tunes was Ferrell’s newer song “Meredith’s in the Garden” which felt a little more Bluesy in subject matter but partly Country in sound, however the female focus chimed really well with the female perspectives on Dolly’s previous two songs.
The concert was a very full set and also included a solo performance by Ferrell, duets between Ferrell and Timbo on “The Last Thing On My Mind” which was particularly moving, and one of Timbo’s songs, “Gentle Breeze of Tennessee” (from his debut EP) which worked very well. The song itself broke out of the mold a little in terms of more open structure and more rolling lyrics, but the storytelling and tone was a great match for the other songs on the bill that night. Playing Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wheels” reminded audiences of the more modern aspects of Honky Tonk music (especially when it was written) and how adaptable the form can be provided the emotional components remain.
Ferrell not only played guitar alongside vocals much of the night, but took out the mandolin for a few songs, including her own, “Another Rain Song.” This composition really highlights Ferrell’s position between traditions carrying the emotional punch of older relationship songs and the unexpected phrasing of modern alternative music. The brevity of her lyrics is often very persuasive and that’s something she’s clearly honed well from a number of musical influences. From her upcoming album, she also performed “Made Like That,” which stakes out her sense of identity and background (in West Virginia) very clearly while resonating with plenty of universal elements in human nature.
The evening concluded with a Charlie Pride song which the group performed in their “own way” but hoped to do service to Pryde’s original. The result was a high-energy and entertaining look at “The Snakes Crawl at Night,” a high note for dark undertones that are so much a part of Honky Tonk music. The song choices for the concert and the arrangement of the setlist was clearly given some solid thought for variety and interesting approaches to relationship songs. It came off like an excellent anthology or primer of options when it comes to personal narrative and intricate songwriting. And they certainly did do service to the original songwriters and performers on those pieces as well as when introducing their newer work for consideration.
If that was “Poison”, we look forward to seeing what Ferrell and friends will do with Calypso Night and Jazz Night, because the opening show went down easy and no doubt left audiences ready for another themed musical tour. Find it here: https://www.sierraferrellmusic.com