CMA songwriters session@ Whelans - 23rd Feb. 2012

The CMA (Country Music Assocation) was back to Dublin for another of its outreach events. In the past they have brought in (then) upcoming acts like Jace Everett, Julie Roberts and Dierks Bentley as well as holding their AGM meeting in Dublin in 1995. This time out it was a trio of songwriters, Bill Anderson, Clint Black and Bob DiPiero, who were here to play some of the many songs they had written and to expand on them with stories about how they were written or about their own lives and times. This was as much about the repartee as it was about the music. To some it was an odd paring in that both DiPiero and Bill Anderson are predominantly songwriters although Anderson has had a lengthy career as an recording artist in his own right. Clint Black, who emerged at the same time as Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson, has not released an album of new material in some time and is not really known as a writer for other artists. But in the end the balance worked and the audience were enthralled.

Black arrived on stage a little later than the others as he had picked up a flu virus along the way and was trying to give his voice as much chance to recover as possible. This gave him time to show his skills as a guitarist and harmonica player. He impressed on both and played on songs by both the other participants. Anderson commented that "my guitar doesn't have all the notes on it that yours does" in recognition of his dexterity. He was particularly poignant on harmonica on a couple of Anderson's classic country songs. Anderson was indeed the most obviously "classic country" of the trio and he played a selection of songs from his "deep" catalogue. These ranged from Five Little Fingers, a song that was a hit here in Ireland by Frankie McBride, from his early years through to Whiskey Lullaby, a CMA song of the year in 2005, though it was written years earlier by Anderson and Jon Randall, it was eventually recorded as a duet by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss. DiPiero acted as MC and called on the other two sing or to tell a particular story. They took it it in turns to deliver the songs and tell tales and, as is befitting a veteran artist we are unlikely to see playing live again Bill Anderson was granted a couple of extra choices. DiPiero told us that Bob Dylan had been asked in the documentary Don't Look Back which songwriter he most respected and he had named Bill Anderson. That's some respect.

For a man in his 75th year Bill Anderson has an uncanny memory of his songs and lyrics and has a gentle humour and is still in good enough voice to give life to his songs. These included Po' Folks, Still and the Ken Dodd covered Happiness and a song he opened his selection with titled The Songwriters which pretty much summed up the vocation with humour and insight. Anderson told us about touring in Ireland back in the day with Loretta Lynn and he remembered the review he had received from one disgruntled critic who was non-too-partial to his mid-song recitations. The reference to their sentimentality he said had the effect of tour mate Conway Twitty referring to him as "Hallmark" for the rest of the tour. Another story he told was of a couple who were watching television in bed and the husband had the controller and was constantly flicking channels between and x-rated show and a fishing channel. This exasperated his wife who told him to "stick with one channel or other". "Which one" the husband said, to which his wife replied the x-rated one as "you already know how to fish"! He played us a more contemporary song called Give It Away that he had written with Buddy Cannon and Jamie Johnson that was build around an explanation of the title that Johnson had said was a drawn from the experience of going through a divorce. At a later award ceremony Johnson had thanked his wife for divorcing as he had gotten this song from it.

Bob DiPiero's songs have been covered by a wide range of country artists but in person he delivers them more in rockin' acoustic mode. His first cut was by, then newcomer, Reba McIntire. He explained how when he got the cheque he went out and spent it only to realize after that he had not kept anything back for tax. Writing about theis experience gave him the song American Made, which was covered by The Oak Ridge Boys, and also the title of his current solo album. He also told how the experience of watching Forrest Gump had inspired him to write Blue Clear Sky and hiw he had to defend it's title with the artist who recorded it, George Strait, from changing it to Clear Blue Sky. He stuck to his guns and it stuck to the top of the charts. 

Clint Black, had a more caustic wit that he aimed at his fellow artists and the audience on occasion. He told us how his song Code Of The West was inspired by those in uniform who put themselves in harm's way, such as those in the military or the fire service. Black told us he was raised a Catholic and his middle name was Patrick and how, as a kid, he had kept snakes but had lost a poisoned one in the house but it had turned up, dead, in the washing machine. He got a great response from the audience for his 1989 hit A Better Man, his first single. Black had been requested, via Facebook, to play the song A Bad Goodbye. This he put off till later in the show when he felt his voice was warmed up enough to tackle it. He told us how he had got Wynonna Judd to sing on the recorded version but tonight maybe Bob would fill in. Bob declined to, so he started to sing it solo when the lady who had requested it was heard singing along in the audience. Her name we discovered was Michelle and he brought her up on stage where she, despite her nervousness, delivered it well and it was one of the evening's magic moments. 

The evening closed with the trio delivering a rousing version of Will The Circle Be Unbroken with the entire audience singing along and a standing ovation for three individualistic personalities who showed some insight into their skills as songwriters and singers as well as communicators. It was a master class in how the art of good songwriting can cross boundaries and decades to connect with a sympathetic audience.

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton