As Lightning 100’s Wells Adams prepared to hand over the 2013 Music City Mayhem crown to local family-band folk-rockers Lulu Mae, he stopped to give a special acknowledgement to runner-up Mercy Bell. “In all our years of doing this,” he mused, “we’ve never seen anyone hustle like Mercy and her crew. What you’ve done will not soon be forgotten.” This was true; the scrappy female-folk songstress had mounted an almost superhuman campaign for votes throughout the competition that had propelled her to the final four and earned her some upsets over a few well-established acts. The thing about hustling, though, is that you have to have something to back it up. If you are in even the farthest-flung corner of the music industry, you have upwards of 20 artists asking you to “listen, vote, buy!” every day, and your capacity for selective listening struggles to keep up. The only reason Mercy Bell got as far as she did was because she has the stuff to back it up. That’s why in addition to “Coralina,” the single from Lulu Mae, you may have also recently heard Mercy Bell’s sweepingly epic “Icarus” soaring over the local airwaves. If you still haven’t caught her yet, you’d be wise to head over to The High Watt tonight and do so.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Mercy Bell’s All Good Cowboys is the best folk album I’ve bought all year. Okay, maybe it ties with Jim James’ Regions of Light and Sound of God, but no one is even sure if that’s a folk album. The aforementioned “Icarus” is cinematic and lonely in a gray-sky-and-highway way, and Mercy’s distinctive voice is what really propels the track into the stratosphere. If you do see Mercy live, you’ll be shocked at the disproportion in size of singer/size of voice. Her cover of the old spiritual “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” nearly busted the PA last time I saw her. Mercy keeps the lion in the cage for most of the album (only really letting it out in full force for the end of “Wild Fire”), and this is a virtue, because some of my favorites are the mellower, downtempo numbers. My favorite of this bunch is “Flowers,” an elegantly simple tune reminiscent of female folk artists of yesteryears. On this and several other of Mercy’s songs, I can’t help but pick out modern-day Melanie Safka tendencies. You’ll have to decide about the rest for yourself, so pick up All Good Cowboys here. Oh, did I mention you get to name your own price?
Mercy Bell is supported by New England alt-country artist James Maple and Nashville’s own (and possibly only) “cow-punk” artist Adrian Krygowski. Tickets are $8, doors are at 8, and show starts at 9. 18+.