Carrie Underwood shines at CMA Songwriters Series

A review of the CMA Songwriters Series at Royale on July 31, 2012

, Editor-in-Chief

In a rare and intimate club show at Boston’s Royale, country superstar Carrie Underwood showcased her undeniable talent during a memorable two-hour performance. However, as part of the CMA’s Songwriters Series, the show not only special because of the former American Idol champion but because of the songwriters who have aided in her rise to fame.

Founded in 2005, the series made its Boston debut last summer with Kenny Chesney. The shows are a rare treat that shine the spotlight on the songwriters behind some of country’s biggest hits. At Royale, a talented songwriter herself, was joined by her a cast of her most notable co-writers in Luke Laird, Hillary Lindsey and Brett James. Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Bob DiPiero served as the evening’s host. The in-the-round format gave each of the singers a few moments in the spotlight, each sharing stories about the song’s inspiration and encouraging the crowd to join for a sing-along.

Underwood, who was aided by guitarist Shawn Tubbs, was the obvious attraction for the sold out crowd. Despite only singing a handful of songs, she shined on each for a memorable evening. With no backing band or stage show, it was a night of simplicity. Of course, despite the bare-bones approach, there is nothing simple about Underwood’s incredible vocal range, which shined even brighter in the intimate format. Her first song of the night was one of her personal favorites in “So Small”. The delivery was so remarkable that DiPiero jokingly declared, “Thank You, Goodnight” at its conclusion before James added, “We will not be following that.”

She picked up the temp with “Undo It” in round two but it was round three’s passionate rendition of “Temporary Home” that would be the best of the night. After the song, DiPiero declared, “Carrie, You are the best singer I have hear live”. With a brand new album to promote, Underwood took time to promote the recently released Blown Away with a pair of new songs as her final choices. Album cut “Two Black Cadillacs” was solid, while hit single “Good Girl” ended the night in spectacular fashion.

Of course, Underwood was just one singer-songwriter on the crowded stage and those that only payed attention to her, missed out on so much more. Each of the songwriters brought a unique flair to the show. For some, it was clear why they prefer to be just songwriters, while others showed that could handle the bigger spotlight.

DiPiero, a CMA Songwriters Series regular, was a jovial host. He started the show with “Southern Voice”, a hit he penned for Tim McGraw. His vocals were a little rough but he was able to the crowd to take over in sing-alongs of “Daddy’s Money” and “Gone”.

Laird was a pleasant surprise. The Pennsylvania native first delivered “Take a Back Road”, a song he penned with Rhett Akins for Rodney Atkins. Summertime hits like Little Big Town’s “Pontoon”, which Underwood joined in on, and Eric Church’s “Drink In My Hand both proved to be big crowd favorite, while he added some beatboxing to spice up “Hillbilly Bone”.

Lindsey, Underwood’s biggest and most frequent hit-maker, was bubbly and fun. She had the unfortunate position of singing after Underwood in the rotation, but made light of the situation. Lindsey first delivered a pair of Underwood songs in “Do You Think About Me” and “Jesus Take The Wheel” but clearly displayed some trepidation singing the songs before packed crowd with the star only a few feet away (Underwood did help by offering some backing vocals). However, on other songs she’s penned, Lindsey was clearly more comfortable and the results proved it. Her vocals were quite solid on “American Honey” and “Concrete Heart”. The latter was song she only recently penned and has yet to be recorded by anyone but proved she’s got another hit on the way.

James was probably the most comfortable on stage, frequently interacting with the crowd and fellow performers while telling jocks. He warned the crowd he was a little “under the weather” and asked them to help out with his first song of the evening, “The Truth”. He channeled his inner feminine side for “Mr. Know It All”, the hit pop song he co-penned for Kelly Clarkson. James later joked that he felt weird singing another feminine hit in “Cowboy Cassnova”, and the voice he came up with for his silly rendition came across like Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon (he was right).

Ultimately, the in-the-round format gave the evening a feeling of being able to sit in on a writing session with the performers. The lyrics and songwriting skills were propelled to the forefront for a night that gave fans a unique perspective of how things happen in Nashville. If there was complaint to be had, the crowd chatter seemed to overwhelm at points. Perhaps, moving the series to a more intimate theater setting than a club next time around would be best. Either way, fans can only hope the CMA will make Boston a more frequent stop on their Songwriters Series.


Setlist

1. Southern Voice – Bob DiPiero
2. Take a Back Road – Luke Laird
3. So Small – Carrie Underwood
4. Do You Think About Me – Hillary Lindsey
5. The Truth – Brett James
6. Daddy’s Money – Bob DiPiero
7. Pontoon – Luke Laird
8. Undo It – Carrie Underwood
9. Jesus Take The Wheel – Hillary Lindsey
10. Mr. Know It All – Brett James
11. If You Ever Stop Loving Me – Bob DiPiero
12. Hillbilly Bone – Luke Laird
13. Temporary Home – Carrie Underwood
14. American Honey – Hillary Lindsey
15. Cowboy Cassnova – Brett James
16. Gone – Bob DiPiero
17. Drink In My Hand – Luke Laird
18. Two Black Cadillacs – Carrie Underwood
19. Concrete Heart – Hillary Lindsey
20. When The Sun Goes Down – Brett James
21. Good Girl – Carrie Underwood

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