Maybe it was Memphis

It’s April Fool’s Day and perhaps not inappropriate to take a straightforward frolic and detour from the news of the day. We went to see country star Pam Tillis perform at the Dakota before a full house of fans this past Saturday evening. Among other things, she made me wish that I’d been listening to country radio in the 90’s when she broke through to become a star. She is an incredibly talented and engaging singer, songwriter, and performer.

Her site is here. She tells her own story here. She seems to be on an extended tour that will take her around and about the United States over the next year. We loved her show. If you have the chance to see her, seize the day.

She is touring with Haley Sullivan (piano and vocals) and Ivy Phillips (mandolin/fiddle and vocals). Pam plays acoustic guitar. Almost all the songs come in three part-harmony featuring Pam’s lead vocal. The sound is ineffably beautiful. I think the acoustic format is the perfect setting for her voice. Pam Tillis remains a great singer.

Mixing the songs in with an account of her career, Pam played a two-hour set that included just about every hit a fan might reasonably want to hear. She started out making her own way on the West Coast as a rock artist. In that phase of her career she recorded her first album on Warner Bros. and titled it Above and Beyond the Doll of Cutey. You not only can look it up, you can track it down on YouTube.

She came into her own and found her voice as a singer and songwriter when she returned to Memphis. Before the encore she concluded her set with “Maybe It Was Memphis,” one of her early hits. I loved the trio version (as opposed to the highly produced hit). The video below renders it, but it doesn’t capture the quality of her voice. Not even close. “What was I supposed to do?”

She plucked “Detroit City” from her father’s catalog. Mel Tillis wrote it with Danny Dill. In 1963 Bobby Bare turned it into a hit with his heartfelt vocal. If you were listening to the radio back then, you remember. It might even make you homesick.

Like Suzy Bogguss, Pam Tillis has navigated her own way since country radio passed her by. She records on Stellar Cat Records, her own label. Looking for a Feeling (2020) is her most recent album. You can hear the quality of her voice on “The Scheme of Things” (Mark Selby/Tia Sillers).

The live recording of Bruce Hornsby’s “Mandolin Rain” goes back a bit further, but likewise gives a good representation of her sound in an intimate venue.

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