Sleigh bells rang, were you listenin'? In the lane the, uh, rain was glistenin'. Not really a beautiful sight, but we were happy on Friday night pretending that Nashville was a winter wonderland. If it weren't for the craptastic weather, The Spin's excursion to the Cleft Music Christmas party at Billups Gallery in East Nashville could have been a goddamn greeting card or a some sort of made-for-TV movie, just without Meredith Baxter or any former cast member s from Beverly Hills 90210 teaching us a heartwarming lesson about love. There were friends and family, food and booze, and a heaping helping of holiday cheer which, when multiplied by plenty of sauce, makes for a pretty sweet shindig.
The reason for the evenin', so to speak, was the release of Chelsea Crowell's stunning, self-titled debut album, and boy is it a reason to celebrate. Just to put things into perspective, after we heard "Tremolo Trees" for the first time a few weeks ago, we were so enraptured that we actually bought the album (!) because we were so impatient to hear the rest of the record. Sure, we could have waited a few hours for Cleft honcho Loney John Hutchins to wake up and give us a little gratis action, but we were smitten at first listen--and that never happens. Regardless, the platter would have been a bargain at twice the price, as it's chock full of taut songwriting and gorgeous arrangements that make us wonder what would have happened if Lee Hazelwood and Loaded-era Velvet Underground had a pickin' party in Sylvan Park.
This was the second show ever for Chelsea and her band of Nashville indie A-listers--including Mr. Hutchins, William Tyler, James Careen and Ben Martin--and you could tell they were a little shaky, but it was very, very endearing. The first few songs were plagued by phantom squalls of feedback from the sound system, but the ear-splitting screeches were worth it just to see Chelsea's dad, country legend Rodney Crowell, staring quizzically at the soundboard. Totes adorable, for sure. Once the technical difficulties were subdued, Crowell and band delivered a top-notch set of soulful, psyche-tinged country that was beguiling and beautiful. "Where the Hell is Robert E. Lee?" and its sardonic Civil War narrator was a highlight, as were the rollicking "Never Be a Beggar" and the duet with her dad on "I Want My Seven Years Back." We've seen a lot of second shows in our day, but few--if any--have shown this much promise.
Crowell's crew wrapped up their set, and Willy T. jumped on the wheels of steel while Tim Chad & Sherry set up and we tossed back the Maker's Mark the way Tiger Woods sexts bikini models. The dusty grooves from Tyler's crates cranked up the holiday cheer from 11 to 12 as people started dancing, gearing up for the boogie-down, dadaist R&B of TC & S. And like El Tigre, we maybe should have thought about using a little self-control, because about four songs in, our designated driver got worried we were going to regurgitate our holiday cheer all over the dance floor. We weren't actually going to ralph, but we were looking for a photocopier to make facsimilies of our ass cheeks, so we deferred to more sober and less em-bare-ass-ing minds. But it was definitely a very merry Cleft-mas party.