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Review: Williams amazes 'Mountain Stage' audience

By Autumn D. F. Hopkins

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Mountain Stage" is a musical grab bag of yesteryear, you can never be entirely sure what you will get. Sometimes it is paper dolls and magic tricks, other times it is toy soldiers and candy. It is always good stuff, just not always quite what you wanted. Sunday night's show was the kind of grab bag I fantasized about as a kid, with a little bit of every thing I wanted.

The show opened with West Virginia native Missy Raines and her latest band, The New Hip. Raines is an award-winning bass player and would normally be found playing bluegrass. This latest chapter in her musical career has her playing something Larry Groce called "Americana." In my mind that word conjures up images of folk musicians, and while Raines definitely has the storytelling aspect of folk, her sound is so much more.

With a dark, melodic, honey-rich voice Raines was too country to describe as bluesy, and way too bluesy to be pop. Her sound was seductive and enthralling -- kind of like Amy Winehouse meets Rosanne Cash. Her band lent the perfect foil of mandolin and steel guitar.

Charlie Faye and guitarist Will Sexton followed Raines. The Mountain Stage Band backed the duo. Faye's songs were sweet, but the theme of each seemed very much the same: heartache, lost love, found love. The set wasn't spectacular. It was very much girl-next-door goes to college, gets her heart broken and buys a guitar.

Wrapping up the first hour was Sam Baker. An unassuming solo act with a guitar and a couple of harmonicas, Baker insisted the house lights be brought up so he could see the audience. I think he insisted on the lights so he could see the tears glinting on the cheeks of the audience members as he broke their hearts with his ragged, raw testament to humanity.

Baker is something between Bob Dylan and Don DiLego -- an average voice layered with a brilliant guitar and poignant lyrics ripped from the pages of his own life's story. The coarseness of his voice and the story he told pressed in against beautiful melodies served to break my heart and hand it back to me, over and over in his set.

The second hour opened with Gary Nicholson, a well-known songwriter from Nashville. Nicholson has written songs for everyone from Vince Gill to Neil Diamond. Guitarist Colin Linden accompanied him. The two served to lighten the mood with several mainstream country favorites and a couple of funny original blues tunes about women and food.

The main attraction of the evening was Holly Williams, daughter of Hank Williams, Jr., granddaughter of Hank Williams, Sr. and half-sister of Hank III. She looked like Joni Mitchell, danced like a nervous schoolgirl and sounded like a country angel fell from heaven landed heartbroken on earth. Williams did her musical heritage proud.

Williams has an innocent charm that reels the listener in so her lyrics can tear your heart from your chest. Songs like the deceptively titled "Happy," co-written with her husband -- Kings of Leon guitarist, Chris Coleman -- offered a plaintive lament to love not only gone, but also annihilated. She was amazing.

Accompanied by guitarist Anderson East, the two did a great service to traditional country music with tight, slightly twangy harmonies that drilled into the soul and stuck in the brain.

Songs like "Waiting on June," paid tribute to the down-home heritage of the other side of Williams' family. Clearly a talented storyteller, she captivated the audience with her beautiful voice and beguiling lines.

If you missed Sunday night's "Mountain Stage" visit their website www.mountainstage.org and check out the podcast. If you like one or more of the artists you can find out more about them on the site's profile page.

Reach Autumn D.F. Hopkins at autumn.hopkins@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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