If the first Rolling Stones records had featured a sultry singer with Billie Holiday’s suggestive phrasing, they would’ve sounded just like Eilen Jewell and her band, the headliners at Nightfall on Friday. On Jewell’s most recent album, Queen of fhe Minor Key, she melds her languidly soulful voice with a band playing the kind of roadhouse country-soul Robert Mitchum would’ve had playing on his car radio in the moonshiner movie, “Thunder Road.”
Of all the great free shows at Miller Plaza this summer, this is the one not-to-be-missed show. The Boston-based singer-songwriter whose name rhymes with “reelin’” may have titled her current album after bristling at churlish critics nitpicking her predilection for understatement, but they were right, and she was right to listen. They may have intended for her to re-think her approach, but she had no reason. Instead she took those caveats as her coronation.
She may enjoy the minor mode, but that doesn’t mean she can’t rock. Leading a trio capable of navigating a noir-ish late-night swing on one tune (“I Remember You”) and the open-chorded twang of early 60’s rock ‘n’ roll (“Shakin’ All Over”) on another, Jewell and her band will lull you one minute and in the next have you up on your feet like a roadhouse dancer on a Saturday night.
The Wild Feathers, a Nashville quintet, are the lead act the following week (Friday, Aug. 24), replacing another Nashville band, The Apache Relay, who are on tour with Mumford & Sons and had to cancel. The Feathers came together in 2010, organized by industry veteran Jeff Sosnow, who knew them all and thought they’d get along and complement each other. By the end of 2010, the band holed up in a Pigeon Forge cabin to write and record demos for their debut album. The Nashville Scene describes their sound as “unhinged, harmony-driven Southern rock ... somewhere between The Beach Boys and Black Oak Arkansas, a jubilant pummeling of rock ’n’ roll excitement.”
Tizer, a septet led by pianist Lao Tizer, will be the featured act the following week (Friday, Aug. 31). Along with Tizer, who doesn’t consider himself the leader, will be saxophonist Steve Nieves, violinist Karen Briggs (a featured player in Yanni’s band for 13 years) and guitarist Chieli Minucci. Originally one half of the duo Special Efx, with percussionist George Jinda, Minucci is a world-class musician successful on Broadway, as a writer of television themes, the leader of Special Efx for more than 25 years, and as an in-demand sideman for pop acts like Jennifer Lopez, Jewel and Celine Dion, as well as a number of contemporary jazz musicians.
Tizer’s music is a mix of jam-band funk and airy jazz-influenced pop with some meaty solos from Briggs, Minucci and Tizer, whose piano playing brings Bruce Hornsby to mind. This is what people mean when they refer to “smooth jazz.” It’s not very demanding music, but while it’s light, it’s not lightweight. “I admire traditional jazz and bebop,” said Tizer in an on-line interview, “but there is a rhythmic sense to Tizer’s music that makes it easy for an audience to connect. It adds more energy and makes it more free-flowing.”
The headliner for the final show in this year’s series on Friday, Sept. 7, is an Austin, Texas-based rock ‘n’ roll band called Quiet Company. Contrary to their name, the quartet—featuring pianist, singer and guitarist Taylor Muse, guitarist and keyboardist Tommy Blank, bassist Matt Parmenter and drummer Jeff Weathers—are a bunch of wall-shakers.
Hometown favorites in Austin, the band won a raft of awards in the Austin Chronicle’s 30th Annual Austin Music Awards for 2011-2012, including Band of the Year, Best Indie Band and Best Rock Band. Watching them bashing out their own tunes “You, Me and The Boatman” and “When they Really Get To Know You …,” as well as a cover of The Cure’s “In Between Days” may well cause many viewers to wonder how they won a contest in a music town like Austin. But one look at a YouTube video of the band on stage will answer that question. Put them in front of a crowd and they come alive. On stage their music has the thunder and energy of a great rock band. Their set promises to be an epic closer for this year’s Nightfall series.
Richard Winham is the host and producer of WUTC-FM’s afternoon music program and has observed the Chattanooga music scene for more than 25 years.