The most enduring country songs exist at a crossroads.
There, whether it is to relay a personal story or to inhabit a character, the singer sets a choice. Summoning up history and listening to their hearts, they head in one direction, hoping for the best against three or four chords.
Brittney spencer knows how to sing this song because she lives this song. With a head full of dynamic sounds and her heart determined to connect with listeners, the talented Baltimore native imagined herself taking various musical paths.
Spencer knows she is always free to seek out other sounds or bring the best from one musical destination to another. Yet a way opened up for her.
âI chose country music – and I feel like country music chose me,â she said.
One of the real rising stars of this year’s Roots N Blues festival list, Spencer invests his songs with hindsight and generosity. When she makes her mind heard aloud, audiences – and peers – respond alike.
She played with The Highwomen, a celeb outfit featuring former and future Roots N Blues artists such as Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby. And Morris boosted Spencer’s signal, praising her among a group of black women country artists. in an acceptance speech at the 2020 CMA Awards.
Deep and wide playlists
Spencer grew up respecting – and listening to the possibilities – of a wide range of music. While learning to express herself in church and in singing lessons, she evolves in social circles that revolve around different types of artists.
She has created personal playlists where artists like Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald, Beyonce and Britney Spears, Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss have shared space and meaning.
âI just have all of these sounds in my ears at once,â Spencer recalls.
Solving those stacked deals was confusing at times, she admitted. But Spencer saw his music experience as an extension of his relationship. She wanted to hear what her friends were listening to, share the songs that touched the people closest to her.
âMusic is community – it’s a way to connect with people,â she said. “And I have so many different people in my life. I’ve always been that person.”
Growing up in her voice and sifting through the songs in front of her, Spencer decided her fate was linked to country music. Her voice, she knows, is a rich and agile instrument capable of singing almost anything. However, his approach as a songwriter is best suited to the country storytelling award genre.
âWhat’s really special about it is that when you can do anything, figuring out what you actually want to do is such a task,â Spencer said. âWhen you decide on one thing, it means a lot more to you because you chose it. It’s not the only thing you can do, but it’s the thing that really catches your heart and it is where you found a home. “
Spencer’s sense of belonging and the quiet confidence that emanates from her songs has brought her to a big part of the limelight. She recently took advantage of a series of dates to support fellow Roots N Blues festival alumnus, modern roots music, royal Jason Isbell.
Beyond her songwriting skills and being “my favorite person on Twitter,” Isbell’s egalitarian approach to touring has come to Spencer. She watched the artist treat crowds, teams and her fellow musicians with concern and respect.
âAt all levels I can see it in action, I think, ‘I want to do this. I want it to inspire me,'” she said.
After the death of Rolling Stones timekeeper Charlie Watts, Isbell and his band The 400 Unit paid tribute to the drummer by tapping into the band’s catalog on stage. He asked Spencer to star as Merry Clayton one night on the classic “Gimme Shelter” – and deliver what he told her to be his favorite background voice of all time.
Spencer wouldn’t say “no” to Isbell and “I don’t get to sing like that often, where I’m basically screaming in the key,” she said.
Learning and checking the song’s sound seemed pretty standard, she said; the stage experience was anything but.
âI don’t know if it was the energy of the crowd. I don’t know if it was fair with the band. I don’t know if I liked my dress, âSpencer said. âI don’t know ifâ¦ Merry Clayton came over and patted me on the shoulder – but it was so electric.
Soul music, defined
Spencer’s own catalog is growing – the 2020 EP “Compassion” is his longest musical document to date. His songs exist in the country idiom, but meet the definition of soul music. They touched the heart, knowing that it is both where pain begins and where healing begins.
Spencer recalled watching a documentary in which legendary Joni Mitchell discussed her creative process. Mitchell opened up so much as an artist, Spencer said, that she would find herself crying for no clear reason.
Mitchell’s story sounded like a permission to do the same, Spencer said. She wants to live with and in her emotions – “I want to feel it all,” Spencer said – but knows that a measure of caution and concern is needed.
Spencer avoids bringing a song like “Thoughts and Prayers” on stage, in which she battles tragedies caused by gun violence. To elevate hope above despair, she exercises her willpower again – choosing songs to fully inhabit each night.
In a young career already marked by the camaraderie of strong female artists, Spencer feels grateful and empowered when she watches this year’s Roots N Blues lineup. In 2021, each slot of the festival features a female performer.
This approach is a serious statement of intent, said Spencer, addressing inequalities within the industry.
âIt’s really beautiful, and it’s great to see someone other than the women artists themselves having to stand up for women.â¦ It’s really a collective effort,â she said.
Spencer performs at 5:15 p.m. Saturday on the EquipmentShare Stage. For complete programming, stage schedules and more, visit https://rootsnbluesfestival.com/
Aarik Danielsen is the News and Culture Editor for the Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com or by calling 573-815-1731.