(Hands up who watched Nashville to the very end? Clare Bowen and Brandon Young, Metro Theatre.)
You may know that Australian singer/songwriter, Clare Bowen, made a leap from low-profile jobbing actor to a fair degree of fame on the almost-real music industry insider TV drama, Nashville. You would then probably know her character, Scarlett, and remember some of her travails and triumphs. In case you’re not sure, she was not the character played by Connie Britton; that was Rayna James. The one who … well, if you know you know, and if you don’t know yet because you’ve only just started watching Nashville, finally, you will know soon enough, so no spoilers.
You may also know that this week Bowen has announced an Australian summer tour with her singer/songwriter husband, Brandon Young (see dates at the end of this story). Even if you didn’t know, you could probably guess, or at least not be surprised to know, that their musical combination is titled Bowen Young. Which should not be confused with Faron Young, country music legend (and namesake of a marvellous song by decidedly-not-country British band, Prefab Sprout) and no relation.
Do you know that Bowen and Young, not yet then a married couple, have toured here before? Wind Back Wednesday’s files confirm this happened in 2016. And you can probably guess by now that that’s where we are going today. You know what to do.
Metro, May 28, 2016
BAREFOOT, WITH TIARA-LIKE headband and lacy-ish dress; talking self-empowerment and not letting others define you; singing of love and survival, and recovery and love, and claiming a place for yourself and love; playing off both boyfriend and a family member on stage; attracting a strong female audience who empathise if not recognise themselves; backed by a long-haired lead guitarist who may or may not answer to the name Avery Barkley; featuring a guest spot for a doctor in a relationship with someone in the family who, of course can also sing and has co-written a song.
Clare Bowen or Scarlett O’Connor (as played by Clare Bowen in the TV show Nashville)? Real life or fiction? An incredibly packed Metro for the second night in Sydney this week or a mid-size arena in middle America?
The least surprising part of this show, which featured originals mixed in with songs familiar from the show, was probably that the nature of an Australian actor who could sing well and now writes well, and was cast in the role of a Mississippi woman who discovers she can not only sing well but write well, was not that different to said character from Nashville.
That urban hippie thing? It’s not just the script.
Nor was it surprising that the songs Bowen has written with her on/off-stage partner, guitarist/singer Brandon Robert Young and her brother (and support act) Tim Bowen, don’t stray far from the on-screen formula of more pop than traditional country, more ballads than up-tempo, more life lessons than commentary, more earnestness than insight.
So a song of Bowen’s own, Free, can feature lines such as “I’m done cryin’ but I’m all done lyin’ to myself and now I’m free” and sit comfortably alongside the Nashville favourite, Black Roses, with its lines “And I'm done trying to be the one picking up the broken pieces/And I'm done trying be the one, who says I love you dear/But I'm leaving”.
Those cliches? It’s not just the script.
Not that more was asked for really from a very happy and charming Bowen. Amid cries of “bring back Nashville” from those still gutted the show has been, for now at least, axed, the night was a happy blend of near-enough-to-TV-is-good-enough and smartly written material professionally performed with style and enjoyment. You don’t spend that much time in the belly of the music industry’s most efficient manufacturers without picking up handy hints.
For those not quite as caught up in the pleasures of proximity – or who would have given a minor organ or secondary limb to have had Rayna James in the flesh, even if Scarlett O’Connor’s songs are better - there was too much time spent delivering well-meant homilies, a few too many mid-paced and regularly shaped songs and about 25 minutes too much altogether for the show to get peak ratings.
Bowen Young play:
Barwon Club, Geelong, January 12
Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne, January 13
Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, January 14
Factory Theatre, Marrickville, January 19
Lizotte’s Newcastle, January 20
Capitol Theatre, Tamworth, January 21
Wollongong Town Hall, January 27
The Triffid, Brisbane, January 28