Jane Ellen

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East Nashville Rambling Revue

It was my good fortune to spend the last two evenings enjoying the music of Nashville-based Americana artists Eric Brace, Phil Lee, and Tom Mason. The trio of singer/songwriters are working their way through New Mexico on their way to a gig at the historic Sheridan Opera House in Telluride, Colorado. Those who attended concerts at The Range Café in Bernalillo and Apple Mountain Music in 'burque were lucky to witness two different sides of these amazing musicians.

The Lizard Lounge at The Range is a cosy venue; tables are pushed within inches of the small stage, over which a row of stringed instruments decorates the wall. As they were setting up before the show I wondered how on earth three songwriters were going to split an evening, especially when I suspected there were going to be distinct differences in individual style. From the moment they took the stage, however, it became clear that they were friends first, and musicians second. A steady stream of jokes and banter showed that no one was worried about the possibility of bruising egos.

Eric Brace (you may have heard his duo work with Peter Cooper, or with his band Last Train Home) is one of the most highly acclaimed singer/songwriters in the Americana genre; his lyrics are often introspective and reflective, painting vivid images in listeners' minds. Tom Mason is a Renaissance man who plays far too many instruments (all of them well), works as an actor, and writes songs ranging from the story of Dizzy Gillespie's percussionist Chano Pozo to an entire album of modern pirate songs (arrrgh!). Last, but certainly not least, Phil Lee is a spry leprechaun disguised as a cowboy who has the ability to steal the rug out from under both of his compadres whilst playing guitar and handling a veritable arsenal of harmonicas. Because of his persona, it’s easy to dismiss Phil as comic relief, but he can just as easily rip your heart open with the true to life pathos found in his serious songs.

The evening was punctuated with a constant running repartee with the performers and the audience in between (and in the middle of!) songs. All three proved to be consummate entertainers; telling stories, encouraging interaction and coaching singalongs. Tom momentarily transformed himself into one of his pirates when he managed to snare a banjo from its place on the wall which, astonishingly, was in tune! Emboldened by his luck, he next went for a mandolin – which was painful (and dusty!) at best. Two hours flew by without a break, and all too soon the concert was over.

The following night was an all-acoustic venue (without benefit of any amplification) in the tiny yet comfortable and attractive performance space at Apple Mountain. This was my favourite performance simply because it felt like a house concert; there was no struggling to understand lyrics over the sound of plates clattering, and even the resident dog Tucker got into the act. Requests were filled, dedications were made, and there was a sense of intimacy which had been lacking at The Range.

It would be hard, and completely unfair, to attempt to choose highlights (I won't admit how many different CDs I purchased). The breadth and range of style evidenced by each songwriter left me breathless, and their joy in performing music with one another is contagious. This is the second time I've seen Eric (the first was at Nashville's Loveless Café in March of this year), and my first exposure to Tom and Phil, but I would go to another concert without a second's hesitation. I wish that I could give everyone an evening with the magic that is Phil Lee, Eric Brace, and Tom Mason.

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