Pound for pound, Charlottesville more than holds its own in the world of music. Devon Sproule, Shannon Worrell, Sam Wilson, Peyton Tochterman, Paul Curreri, Sarah White and many more (way too many to list here) all call Charlottesville home, and for good reason. The city has soul. The city has heart. More than that, the city has music. In boxcar loads.
Write Carleigh Nesbit's name across one of those boxcars. With slight Southern drawl and a musical maturity way beyond her tender years, Nesbit embodies the spirit of modern mountain music, and why not? Well, it's not mountain music, and yet it is. It is pure and smooth and hauntingly melodic at times, upbeat and downright clog-worthy at others. It is dirt-under-the-fingernails from a voice which puts you at your ease. It is the mountain without the twang. You see, Nesbit grew up around the Blue Ridge Mountains. You almost have to live there to understand.
Nesbit understands. Your City Skies, homage to the country more than a knock on the city, is direct and to the point. "I asked a man when's the last you heard a banjo," she sings, "He said oh no it's been so long/I said let me remind you where I come from fiddles cry all night/They sing mournful mountain songs". An insightful look at lonely in a song overflowing with insight, Nesbit goes for the heart. A direct hit—amongst eight other direct hits.
Flower To the Bee is an album full of insight, actually. Love, life, whimsy, lonely, happy, sad—Nesbit covers it all like she is born to it. She is. You cannot go from the country-ish Three Steps Out the Door to the upbeat and poppish I've Got a Secret to the traditional and folky Anna's Tambourine without being grounded in the music. In a world of chaos, she reminds us how important being grounded can be.
And Nesbit grounds you. With voice smooth and at times frail, she cuts through the chaff with a disarming honesty which is incredibly refreshing. She gives you musical versions of everything from friendly handshake to welcoming hug and beyond. Not once does she try to be who she is not. These days, that says a whole lot.
This is one really fine album and producer Jeff Romano deserves a good deal of credit for the sound. Twisting dials to perfection, he also as provides his own instrumental expertise while gathering a superb crew of sidemen who play together as if they had been playing together for years: Stuart Gunter (drums), Bob Bowen (bass), Andy Thacker (mandolin), Ann Marie Calhoun (fiddle), Charlie Bell (dobro, pedal steel). Add Devon Sproule and Carleigh's sometimes partner Carl Anderson providing additional voices, understated but essential, and you have an awesome unification of talent. That amount of talent could easily have overpowered Nesbit, whose voice relies on warmth rather than strength, but real talent knows how to find a balance and this album is as balanced as it gets. It reinforces my faith in music as THE force in an industry which at times feels like it has lost its way.
This album draws me to Charlottesville almost as if I'd once been there. Truth be told, I have not had the pleasure, but I am getting to know its music and its musicians well enough to champion its scene. It is a vibrant scene, every bit as important as any out there. And it is alive. Ask Carleigh Nesbit. She loves it there. Everytime I hear Flower To the Bee, so do I.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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