All Points South
Mar. 29 at The Sutler
All Points South at The Sutler, a bimonthly singer/songwriter showcase of the "alt-country" persuasion, typifies a Nashville phenomenon: unknown musicians in a dive bar pleading their case for stardom before waning ears. Usually hosted by "the legendary" Davis Raines, as he was dutifully announced, the Monday-night show proffers a plateful of what WSM DJ Eddie Stubbs calls "the real deal," along with a sprinkling of left-of-center Americana.
If you go expecting to discover another Ryan Adams, you'll be sorely disappointed. For the most part, All Points South is journeyman country, complete with loud Western shirts and stone-washed Levi's. If the night we saw is typical, the meager audience consists mainly of other singer/songwriters, obviously regulars: performers often paused to spit out inside jokes, which the faithful lapped up. The surprises promised early on never arrived-except for a visit from the "North American Yodeling Champion," who bellowed a sample of her prize-winning skills to enthusiastic response.
Although the music was solidly professional, almost all the performers ran down the same heartbroke-and-drunk clichés without a single original spin. (Thought: Maybe country singers drink so much because a soda costs $3 at places like The Sutler.) It was left to Lizza Connor, a rising Florida singer-songwriter, to revitalize the old with the new. Playing to a small, inattentive audience, Connor didn't have any homefield advantage. "You're good listeners," she said, which was total crap: the cronies at the bar wouldn't shut up.
Nevertheless, the slight, personable singer kept her cool while her accompanying guitar player, John Hogan, waded through technical difficulties. From the moment the youthful Connor led off with "I Won't"-a regretful ballad centered on the refrain, "I won't go down that road no more"-she immediately distinguished herself from the pack with passion. She sang as though she were reading straight from her journal, yet she returned again and again to the theme of heartbreak without slipping into self-pity.
Like her country, bluegrass and gospel influences, Connor is a storyteller with a guitar. Her performance brimmed with quiet reflection, emotion and vivid imagery, starting with her Merlefest-winning gospel tune "There Is a Place." Even more powerful was "Amy," the story of a baby girl whose young mother gives her up for adoption, which ends with the stirring lines, "Amy don't feel guilty, you made the choice that gave me life...I got your name." Whether autobiographical or not, Connor's songwriting and delivery made it seem only too real.
Although admittedly suffering from seasonal allergies, Connor warmed up after a slightly stiff start. She tried a few new tunes but mostly played songs off her just-released debut Runaway. Even so, that was enough to separate her from the rest of the often indistinguishable bill. Sad to say, much of All Points South showed there's a reason why thousands of hopefuls never hit it big in Music City. But it'll be sadder still if the rare Lizza Connor washes out too.