Joy Oladokun rode a wave of positive energy into her Sunday night gig at 3rd and Lindsley. The sold-out show was a celebration of the Arizona-raised, Nashville-based songsmith's full-length In Defense of My Own Happinessreleased June 4 on Universal-affiliated Republic Records — as well as her first time playing out with her band. 

Oladokun is frequently likened to Tracy Chapman, a comparison she leans into. She cites watching a VHS tape her father made of the reclusive “Fast Car” singer's 1988 appearance on Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday telecast as a formative musical experience. Oladokun even lists “the trap Tracy Chapman” among other tongue-in-cheek designations in her Instagram bio. Like Chapman, Oladokun lets her heart guide her earnest, candid songs. They're understated yet powerful, tackling contemporary subject matter — often stemming from Oladokun’s experience as a proud Black queer woman — with an old-school singer-songwriter slant. Their diaristic approachability underscores how she’s earned the floor.

Oladokun peppered her hour-and-15-minute set with aw-shucks commentary. It was mumbly and jittery at first, perhaps because she was hyper-aware of being recorded and broadcast live on air as part of Lightning 100’s Nashville Sunday Night program. It could've also been the weed, Oladokun noted — the self-described “sensitive stoner” has ball caps embroidered with the phrase at her merch table. But as the night progressed, she and her six-person ensemble loosened up and grew comfortable, and the music peaked with a pair of truly epic moments. 

The first came when Oladokun picked up her acoustic guitar for the tender, gorgeous “Heaven From Here,” with an assist on vocals by the bassist and one of the guitarists from her all-POC band. The tune’s intricate harmonies recalled Crosby, Stills & Nash, and its melancholy splendor brought Fleetwood Mac's “Landslide” to mind. The room was pin-drop quiet during "Heaven," and once it ended, murmurs of “wow” were audible from all corners of the club. 

The second showstopper was a rendition of Prince's “The Cross,” in which the drummer finally got to wild out after keeping time with a soft, steady touch all night. The Prince cover segued smoothly into the set-closer and local radio staple “Sunday.”  Other standouts included the Van Morrison-esque singsong ramble of “Jordan.” The Irish songwriting-legend-turned-infamous-conspiracy-theorist wasn't mentioned when Oladokun discussed grappling with great artists being problematic human beings, but he could’ve been — “Prince was not a perfect man; neither was John Lennon,” she noted. 

Yet another powerful moment in the set: “I See America,” a minor-key, organ-driven rocker akin to “What've I Done to Help,” the lead track from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s 2020 album Reunions. Oladokun will be opening for Isbell and his band for a few dates this fall, including in Birmingham, Ala., and New York in September.

By the time Oladokun returned for a two-song encore, the set list was beginning to blur together. A few more upbeat numbers might've helped the downtempo ones hit harder. Still, the full-band arrangements gave the songs new life; last June’s solo acoustic set streamed from The Bluebird was good, but this time the group worked together to make the songs shine even brighter. For Oladokun & Co., this marked the first show of a jam-packed summer and fall itinerary that includes Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza slots in addition to the Isbell dates. I look forward to seeing them on the other side.

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