Folk-pop maven Jonatha Brooke hasn't toured a whole lot in recent years and so was met with easy, eager applause from a roomful of Nashville fans last night at City Winery. Brooke has long been one of the most literate songwriters in the business, playing with words and imagery like few others, save maybe Neil Finn. Also like Finn, Brooke shuns the low road, musically speaking. Her progressions are distinctive, her harmonies complex. When she puts it all together, the remarkable results speak for themselves.
Though Brooke may not have toured for a while, she still knows how to put on a show. She dug deep into her discography to make sure the crowd was, indeed, on her side right from the start. "West Point," "Blood from a Stone," "Better After All," and "Keep the River on Your Right" date back to albums from 1995, 1997, 2004, and 2007 respectively, and stand as timeless testaments to Brooke's craftsmanship.
From that footing, she tread into more recent territory with offerings from The Works and My Mother Has 4 Noses, causing quite a few eyes to tear up during the kalimba-fueled "Time." Then, she and back-up vocalist Jo Lawry recreated the Story's still-unrivaled harmonies on "At the Still Point."
After a short intermission, Brooke and company were back with soaring vocals on "Landmine," paper-ripping percussion on "God Only Knows," and songwriting perfection on "Because I Told You So," before Brooke and Lawry sang their asses off during "Crumbs." Brooke then gave Sean Driscoll a very long moment in the sun as he tackled the guitar interlude that rounds out the incomparable "Inconsolable." His run wasn't perfect, but it was impressive. She and Lawry then went way back, again, to the Story's inimitable harmonies for "So Much Mine," before closing the set with "Linger," Steady Pull's only representation of the evening. For the encore, Brooke and Lawry returned for a pitch-perfect, a cappella rendering of "In the Gloaming." They nailed it.
With so many mediocre artists in the world, it's sometimes hard to stay in tune with the great ones. But, as Jonatha Brooke proved last night, they are well worth the effort.