Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
one of the five performers on the Black Opry Revue has made much of a mark in the music world yet, but the diverse group of singers onstage did their best to make you think they would not fade into oblivion.
The Black Opry Revue is the brainchild of Holly G., who has been one of the leading activists in promoting Black musicians in the country field. Creating a gathering spot – an Air BnB house in Nashville actually - for musicians at the AmericanaFest in September 2021, the biggest gathering in the Americana music genre, the connections forged at the house led to a tour of City Winery venues around the U.S. with more dates being added.
Credit, of course, goes to Holly G.
But, ultimately, the performers have to be up to snuff. In a smartly put together grouping of Roberta Lea from Norfolk, Va., Autumn Nichols of Nashville, Jett Holden from eastern Tennessee, Tylar Bryant, a Texas transplant to Nashville and locally-based artist Grace Givertz, they were.
Each brought something different to the table in this guitar pull where each musician sang one song at a time. From singer to singer, the quality of the songs was high end. Most everything seemed deeply personal and providing a different perspective on life than your typical white, male country artist.
The night was filled with a number of intense moments and songs. If thinking you were going to hear songs about going for the chicks with your F-150, this was definitely not the concert for you. Instead, it was Givertz singing "Papa," about her late grandfather who was murdered 25 years ago. And Lea looking back nostalgically at her experiences of growing up in "Ghetto Country Streets," mentioning double Dutch, and her closing song, "Sweet Baby Ray," a humorous song about food and her man.
Lea, with her big black hat and occupying center stage, has a soulful edge to her delivery. And she could tell a good yarn with stories about everything from her husband being a family grief counselor at a funeral home in introducing in introducing "He Can't Dance" to being a high school Spanish teacher (she quit a year ago to do pursue her musical dreams).
Givertz, by far the most humorous of the group, recalled Valerie June vocally, while also being the only one not only playing acoustic guitar as she strummed her banjo on several songs.
Nicholas was the deep one, saying that she has learned a lot about herself as she is about to get divorced. Intense in her persona, Nicholas was more on the folk side musically and did well in her stints.
Bryant, who once upon a time was an MMA performer until deciding to pursue music only six years ago, was the most mainstream of the artists. You could hear Garth Brooks singing "I Might've Messed Up." Bryant was easy going style musically, and it served him well.
As for Holden, his voice made you stand up and listen. It's a bit gritty, a tinge bluesy, but most importantly, he digs down, way down, inside. He's lived a lot as well talking about coming out at 15 to his Jehovah's Witness family ("It went about as well as you might expect") before lighting into "Scarecrow."
Not everything quite worked according to plan as performers twice forgot a few words, but in the case of Holden, he could be forgiven given the emotional intensity of a song based on him finding the body of his roommate after she committed suicide. In fact, this was one of the most telling moments of the two-hour show as Holden himself was in tears by song's end. Showing emotion is not a bad thing.
The country music establishment has a long history of ignoring the other instead of bracing those who might offer different perspectives and experiences. Thanks to Holly G. and the Black Opry Revue, these voices will not be ignored any longer.