Tami Neilson: This is Tami Neilson! With Special Guest Jay Neilson
Friday, October 18
One of the trickiest things for Kiwi musicians, I think, is keeping touring fresh. There’s the old album/tour/album cycle – which is more about releasing a single, then touring, then releasing a single sometimes in this long, extended death-of-the-album daze. But what else? What do you do when you need to earn some money and serve some fans but it’s just the same old show time and again. We are not a very forgiving bunch.
Tami Neilson is a class act. She’s built a solid catalogue, she’s a dynamic live performer, has backstory for days and is regularly working up new singles, new albums and has songs appearing on TV shows, or winning Silver Scrolls.
So how to put all that together in a new and interesting way?
Well, her current show is an absolute winner – it’s a great formula, but you have to have the skills to make it work. And she does. So too, does her “special guest”, brother Jay Neilson.
So, here’s the pitch “Songwriter Series” – strip the songs back to how they looked and felt and sounded when first coming up for air: That big, beautiful voice that straddles country and soul and one or two guitars; lots of twang and a bit of sass. Sometimes a bit of harmonica or percussion. Add killer banter and you have a show. A really great show.
Tami has been doing her thing around New Zealand (and the world) for long enough now to never have a bad gig, or to never let on that it’s a bad gig, etc. Total pro. But this was a particularly winning concept and perfect execution: Little bro Jay Neilson, all the way from Canada, knows his role as second fiddle. He’s got great licks and tricks and is never ever too showy on the guitar but sits deep in the pocket giving some spit and grit and snarl to the songs and letting big sis be the boss that she is.
Tami’s in fine – full – voice as she blows over Jay’s Ry Cooder-meets-Blake Mills guitar lines.
The jokes start to flow quick and easy as Tami and Jay remember their father and the family band he created, from a reluctant singing mother to the parents “making more members for the band”; to childhoods touring North America, opening the show for legends like Johnny Cash.
You could pay ticket-price just to hear these stories.
But around the laughs a story is built, Tami follows her heart to New Zealand and does the work trying to make it in a scene that maybe doesn’t even quite exist. Next thing she’s touring with the Topp Twins and then to the bond between her, Delaney Davidson and Marlon Williams; next it’s to songs for the TV show The Brokenwood Mysteries, to winning a Silver Scroll (2014’s Walk) and to keeping the ship running as a working parent (there’s a great line she spits with fire about going on tour to earn the money and her husband being a dad, not at all a babysitter for his own kids, just a dad doing his share too).
What I’m trying to say is that even if the music was bunk you’d be close to heaven. But when this version of a biography includes songs like Kitty Wells’ It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels – to show influence and pay tribute – as well as Tami and Jay’s own creations, which seem now to step out from the long shadow of tradition and start their own dance with greater speed and spirit it’s a night of pure delight.
Someone should film this and it could be a DVD or a TV show or the pair should be coaxed to a studio to make a podcast-version of this.
Radio New Zealand shouldn’t miss a trick here – sure they had Tami and Jay on their NZ Live session but they could make a series out of the musical magic and great banter that flows between this pair.
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