It’s been quite a whirlwind the past few weeks and my travels have kept me away from the Bay Area for a few weeks now. Unfortunately, this has meant that I haven’t been able to attend any shows at the Rodeo Club for quite some time.
Well, that all changed this week when I found myself in town on a Wednesday night, and wouldn’t you know it, KRTY had two of my up-and-coming favorites on stage on the same night. Ladies and gentleman, if you haven’t been introduced to Brandy Clark and Steve Moakler, you’re about to get a formal introduction.
I’ll dive in first with the opening act, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native Steve Moakler. As background, Moakler moved to Nashville back in 2006, honing his craft in a town where the best singers and songwriters go to find their country music dreams. After performing hundreds of live, local performances, Moakler placed a series of songs with several country artists, including Dierks Bentley, Kellie Pickler and Jake Owen. He also released three independent albums, including 2011’s Watching Time Run, which Moakler funded via a Kickstarter campaign.
I talked about how Moakler placed songs for a number of country music artists, but he is well-known, and highly regarded, as one of Nashville’s most respected, up-and-coming songwriters. In fact, Rolling Stone tabbed Moakler as one of “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know”. The magazine called him a “thoughtful singer-songwriter fare in the blue-collar vein of Springsteen, with an Americana bent.”
Did you know that Moakler co-wrote Bentley‘s recent single, “Riser,” with Travis Meadows? Yep. Naturally, he performed “Riser” during his San Jose set, and was one of the highlights of the performance. However, for me, the highlight of Moakler’s set was a fantastic cover of The Eagles “Take it Easy”. Not only is this one of my all-time favorite songs, Moakler pulled it off in a way that even The Eagles would have been impressed…that is, once we got to hear the third verse. I can neither confirm, nor deny, that the second verse might have been repeated.
Getting back to his own music, for the first single from his new album, Moakler turned to a song that I first heard earlier this year, “Suitcase“. In fact, it landed at #45 in my “Top 50 of 2016…So Far“. The song was crafted with writers including Luke Laird, Barry Dean and Thomas Rhett and, in my opinion, deserves more radio airplay than it’s currently seeing. Stations like KRTY and others have been great in getting this song out there to their listening audience, now the word just needs to be spread even more because it’s a hit in waiting.
I’ve got to admit, Moakler’s performance was exactly what I expected…and more. Stripped down, professional, and a fantastic experience. What I love is that he pours his heart and soul into his music. You can tell that we he plays, he’s playing from the heart. Each and every song tells a story, and that’s something that’s missing in country music today. Moakler isn’t up in your face. Rather, he takes the time to draw you in with lyrical poetry and brings it home with smooth, flawless guitar playing that gets your toes tapping along with the beat.
If you get the chance to catch Steve Moakler when he’s in town, make sure you get there early and grab a spot right up front. You won’t regret it.
Speaking of talented songwriters, they don’t come much better than the headlining act of the evening: Brandy Clark.
With songs recorded by the likes of Billy Currington, Darius Rucker, Miranda Lambert, The Band Perry, Reba McEntire, Sheryl Crow, LeAnn Rimes and Kacey Musgraves, Clark is certainly well-known and well-respected in the industry. In fact, Clark is a four-time Grammy Award nominee, including a nominee for Best New Artist at the 2015 awards.
As a bit of background, Clark hails from Morton, Washington, a logging town of less than 1,000 people, located in the shadow of Mount St. Helens.
Growing up, Clark was influenced by a variety of country music artists including Barbara Mandrell, Ronnie Milsap, Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn. She first picked up a guitar at the age of nine and made her singing debut in school musicals. When she entered her first year of college, she started to get more serious about music, taking guitar lessons and joining a band along with her mother and a friend. As a teenager, she discovered the music business program at Belmont University, so she enrolled and moved to Nashville in 1998. After graduation, Clark landed a job with Leadership Music, which led to her eventual publishing deal.
Like Moakler, Clark excels at her storytelling through her music. She is far and away one of the greatest songwriters I have ever had the pleasure of listening to and her live performance only extenuates her talent. On this evening, the audience was treated to a mix of tunes she wrote for The Band Perry (Better Dig Two) and Miranda Lambert (Mama’s Broken Heart), as well as a selection of songs both old and new.
Clark has a new album out, “Big Day in a Small Town“, which tells the stories of the football star, the father, the homecoming queen and the hairdresser. Why? Because those are the stories and people that Clark grew up knowing in her “small town”.
Check out the tracklist below, which includes a who’s who in songwriting credits:
1. “Soap Opera” – Brandy Clark/Bryan Simpson
2. “Girl Next Door” – Brandy Clark/Jessie Jo Dillon/Shane McAnally
3. “Homecoming Queen” – Brandy Clark/Luke Laird/Shane McAnally
4. “Broke” – Brandy Clark/Shane McAnally/Josh Osborne
5. “You Can Come Over” – Brandy Clark/Jessie Jo Dillon/Mark Narmore
6. “Love Can Go to Hell” – Brandy Clark/Scott Stepakoff
7. “Big Day in a Small Town” – Brandy Clark/Shane McAnally/Mark D. Sanders
8. “Three Kids No Husband” – Brandy Clark/Lori McKenna
9. “Daughter” – Brandy Clark/Jessie Jo Dillon/Jeremy Spillman
10. “Drinkin’ Smokin’ Cheatin'” – Brandy Clark
11. “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven” – Brandy Clark/Shane McAnally
There were a few highlights of the evening for me, but one that stood out for me was her performance of “Daughter“, which could be due to the fact that I relate to the lyrics, having two daughters of my own. In fact, one is only a couple years from dating age. Also, I’ve always loved “Stripes” so I was glad that this song found its way on the setlist.
Another highlight would be the live performance of “Girl Next Door“, a song which goes back to the roots of country music and also landed at #18 in my “Top 50 of 2016…So Far“. This song, like all of Clark’s music, is what country music needs today..a swift kick in the ass!
I’ve said this before, and will say it again, too much of today’s music is lacking substance. Many of the artists, and songs, are cookie cutter. For the most part, there’s no real feeling. No emotion. Yes, there are some great songs being written, but they’re being buried and that’s a damn shame.
Artists like Brandy Clark are what country music needs. I can’t stress her songwriting talents enough. I could never do justice. Don’t believe me, go take a listen. I guaranteed you’ll be hooked right away.
As I sit here reminiscing on another great night of country music, I have to give thanks to KRTY. As always, thank you to Nate Deaton, Julie Stevens, Tina Ferguson, Gary Scott Thomas, Randy Jones, Indiana Al, etc…for once again bringing the best in up-and-coming talent to the South Bay.
I also have to give thanks to one of the best photographers out there…Rudy Sabin (see his photo above). The guy is incredible. Be sure to check out his website for some samples of his work and follow him on Twitter at @rudyphoto.
Were you at the show? Have you seen Steve Moakler or Brandy Clark live? Let me know your thoughts on these talented, talented musicians in the comments section below.