As thousands were flocking downtown to see the megastar Taylor Swift, a select few knew that the real can’t-miss concert of the year was down the street at The Basement on 8th. This is where the super talented Mandy Cook was going to be playing every song off her new album “See” from beginning to end. She has worked hard for a couple years to write and perform every song until it was just right and this night was going to be the culmination of all her hard work.
First up was the soulful Matt Lovell singing original songs. His voice is a cross between Mayer Hawthrone and Ray Lamontagne. With no backing vocals or band behind him, Matt entertained the small crowd with extremely well written songs. Each song was captivating and insightful. Matt has been writing music for several years and even has a track with Mandy on her new album called “Flip A Coin.” She even jumped on stage to sing a song that they wrote together called “Alligator Lily.” It sounded like it was created out of a bluesy swamp in the Florida panhandle. This song should make an appearance on his upcoming EP next year.
Batting second was Larissa Murphy. Hailing from a small town outside of Elkhorn City, KY, this enchanting woman packs a country/blues punch that will knock you out of your chair. Her voice and music remind me of Patty Loveless.
Her set was about a half hour long and full of amazing original songs. Each song was different and elicited different emotions. Some were upbeat and had a boot stomping feel to them and others were emotional ballads. Larissa was a real trooper because she was a little under the weather but still crushed it like the professional she is. Her 5 piece band behind her had a lot of showmanship. They cracked jokes with each other and kept the audience entertained the entire set. Larissa and Mandy have been friends for a while and even sang a duet of a Bruce Springsteen cover “Dancing in the Dark.” You can check out the music video they made to help raise money for Larissa’s kickstarter project here. This video helped Larissa raise all the money she needed and more to help get her EP released. Look out for that coming soon!
Finally the main event kicked off with Mandy taking the stage with her full band and Matt Lovell singing backup. On drums she had the wonderfully talented Junior Padilla. On bass was Anthony Sallee who played on all of the tracks on her album, and the incredible James Westfall was on keys. Mandy already sounds talented enough when it is just her and a guitar playing at Hotel Indigo (every Monday and Wednesday night, and Sunday brunch), but with these guys behind her, her music is taken to a new level. The set was the album “See” in its entirety from beginning to end. She started with the first track “Flip A Coin” with Matt Lovell. This song is bluesy and alluring. It is a great way to start an album. It entices you to listen to the rest of the CD immediately. Next on the set list was “Spinning.” This song has a sort of Fleetwood Mac feel at the beginning and then moves into a more pop sound when it gets to the hook. “See” is the title track on the album and one of the most vulnerable songs. Mandy tells a short story about what inspired her to write that song. I won’t spoil it for you. You’ll here it when you see her live. “Drag You Around” (which she forgot to play during the set so she added it on at the end) is her Bill Withers track. One of Mandy’s influences is Bill Withers and she loves his songs so much that she wrote one of her own. “Just No Good At Being Bad” is a stripped down song about not being able to stay mad at your significant other. This is one of my favorite tracks on the album. After this song she took a break from singing her material and added in the Bruce Springsteen duet with Larissa. These two women should sing together more often, in my opinion. Their voices, although different, mesh very well together. Their arrangement of “Dancing in the Dark” is soulful. I don’t mean it was in a soul style, I mean that they put soul into it. You really hear the emotion in the lyrics when they sing it.
Next up was “Mississippi Voodoo.” This is Mandy’s delta drinking song. She says that it is about a dive bar that is so bad that it’s haunted. This song is one of the coolest tracks on the album. I’d say this is the song that is most different from the others. All the songs are autonomous on their own but this one stands out the most. The lyrics are vivid and tell a story. It is a super groovy track that picks up to a New Orleans type feel at the end. “Lose Myself in You” is a song that Mandy’s buddy Gene Cook (no relation) brought to her. I was lucky enough to hear them sing it together acoustic style at the Bluebird Cafe last week. It has a beautiful melody, and they lyrics match. “Heartache” is a song suited for the radio. Even though it has a sad title, it is actually a pretty upbeat song. It is about why we all relate to love songs on the radio. “Hope” is a very emotional song. I think it might be the most vulnerable song on the album. Again, Mandy tells a personal story about how this song came to be. I won’t spoil it because she tells it way better than me, but I’m sure you’ll hear it if you catch one of her gigs. “Undone” is my favorite song on the album because I think I can relate to it the most. Mandy said it is sort of her anthem. I feel it could be a commercial success if it was released to the radio. And that brings me to the last song on the album, “Lauren.” This song is the first single off the album and you can watch the music video here. This song is super catchy and I can’t get it out of my head (not that I want to!).
Mandy didn’t end the show there though. Her mother and father were in the audience and she added a song to the set that she knows is one of her mother’s favorites. It was a cover of “Ribbon in the Sky” by Stevie Wonder. She said she had just learned this song earlier this week and rehearsed it with the band for the show. She crushed it. I think she should add it into her set full time. It is not a commonly known song of Mr. Wonder’s like “Superstitious” (which she also does a cover of in her weekly gigs) but still a great tune nonetheless. She was going to close the show with that but someone cheered for an encore so she played a song that she knows her husband, Mark, would like called “Me and Myself Always Disagree.” This is a newly written song and the band didn’t know it. She walked them through it once and they jumped right it like they’ve known it for years. Her band was awesome. Those guys are such pros. They learned it by ear after hearing it one time. She didn’t even tell them what key it was in. They just looked at her hands playing the chords and figured it out in seconds. THAT is real musicianship. After the show Mandy stuck around to greet her fans. I assume she knew most of them but there were some that she didn’t know. She gave out hugs and autographs.
Even though thousands of people were at the Bridgestone Arena watching a sold out Taylor Swift show, I know I was at the right place last night. The Basement is a small, divey venue that was perfect for Mandy’s release party. It was intimate and the sound was great. It really showcased Mandy’s talents up close and personal. I love me some Swifty now and then but I would rather see real musicians like Matt Lovell, Larissa Murphy, and Mandy Cook any day of the week.
A few of us after the show. I only know a few of them. Her husband, Mark (in the hat), her brother (pictured above Mark), obviously Mandy in the middle, me with the set list, and my friend Ashley.