Stewart rides high after tackling life's ups and downs
Rockwood Music Hall, Boston, November 28, 2023
Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
What started for Amanda Stewart by playing music during the cocktail hour at a wedding of a Boston-area couple in Montana this summer turned months later into the Americana/country singer's most welcome Beantown debut.
But Stewart, a native of Bozeman, Mont., acquitted herself in a very generous 2 1/4-hour show that she is far more than some background wedding singer type.
Not when you have a soaring, powerful, emotive voice like Stewart. Nor when you have a bunch of heartfelt songs that have something to say.
While some artists tend to bathe in songs about drinking and drugs as if that's the solution to life's problems, Stewart had a differing perspective in the song "Drugs" and the world premiere of "Me and the Whiskey" (in fact, the latter was one of two new songs – the other was "Rollercoasters" – making their debuts).
"Drugs" is about the destructive nature of drugs on a relationship (a past relationship of Stewart died of an overdose).
"Me and the Whiskey," a honky tonker, made Stewart reference her late father, an alcoholic. In her sometimes very frank banter, Stewart said she was concerned about her mother hearing the song.
Let's put it this way. Stewart would not be accused of prettying up life's tumults and turmoils.
Nor did she on a few Christmas songs she played on a forthcoming holiday EP due out Dec. 15. While she turned in a credible take on "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas," she was more captivating on her own holiday fare, which she categorized as "sad Christmas" songs. Yup, the holiday season isn't always full of good cheer as Stewart made clear in "Since It's Christmas" and the hope in vain for a phone call from an ex.
Stewart was honest in her delivery, heartfelt especially a few times when she simply soared vocally and oftentimes injecting a lot of emotion in the material. "Saved" was ample proof positive and perhaps the best song of the night. Stewart prefaced the song by saying that she likes to hang out by the Yellowstone River when life isn't going so well for her.
In a loose show – Stewart apparently is more used to playing bars in Montana with her band than full-fledged concerts – she offered a few "two for Tuesdays" in covers of Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen songs (she had her own take of "Dancing in the Dark" instead of replicating The Boss).
Stewart underscored her country bona fides with a good cover of Miranda Lambert's "Bluebird," but doing Rihanna's "Umbrella" was not needed.
Stewart benefitted from having Thad Beatty as her acoustic guitarist. Beaty has a long resume as a touring guitarist with the likes of Sugarland and Rihanna, and Stewart is certainly fortunate that he left Nashville a few years ago to retire in Montana.
Beatty was a sharp-fingered, exacting player throughout the night and capably backed up Stewart on vocals. And he also wasn't afraid to take the mic (Stewart probably should have taken center stage more in her banter, but this was a low-key show performed without a setlist in a very intimate club), even going where few touring musicians dare to go – dissing the Patriots and Red Sox for poor seasons.
It's ironic that what started in Montana as a wedding where people are understandably upbeat led to a show of very different sentiments (presumably she didn't play her downer songs at the wedding). The only ups and downs were in the lyrics because otherwise Stewart should have been riding high after a night like this.