A couple of years ago, Drina Seay was singing harmonies with what seemed like every good country band within earshot. Now she has her own band, which frees her up from having to hang out way, way up in the high notes where only a singer of her caliber can go. Instead, out in front of the band, she uses a richly nuanced, high midrange, drawing deeply on all styles of Americana from country to soul to blues to straight-up rock. Her songwriting is just as sophisticated and eclectic: Neko Case started doing the exact same thing about ten years ago.
Seay’s show last night at Lakeside with her band the Deep Blue Sea – Skip Ward on upright bass, the ubiquitously brilliant Homeboy Steve Antonakos on lead guitar and solid, versatile drummer Eric Seftel – left even her regular crowd stunned. There are other players in town who have come of nowhere, or at least that’s how it seems, but nobody moving down the fast track quite like her – plenty of good singers out there, but only a small handful with the quality and intelligence of the songs she ran through here. She opened with a sly, midtempo country song told from the point of view of a party animal who’s open to settling down and leaving the tequila alone – “Yeah, right,” she murmured at the end of a chorus. The best songs of the night were the darkest ones, especially the second one, a bitter blend of oldschool soul and jazz. When Seay reached the end of the chorus and slid pensively downward over the song’s brooding, minor-key hook, the effect was viscerally spine-tingling.
Lorraine Leckie , somebody who knows a thing or two about dark songwriting, joined her on another noir Americana number called Black Roses, amping up the outrage factor with her harmonies. Seay brought down the house a little later on with a big, torchy, minor-key ballad lit up by one of Antonakos’ inimitably cerebral, jazz-infused, fearlessly intense solos where he’d go to the edge of the melody every time and hang over but never completely fall out of the picture – and then he’d pull himself back in a split second. It wasn’t all chills, either. Antonakos sang a cleverly amusing country song with Seay doing her signature high harmonies while he went on about how movie monsters aren’t really evil: it’s just the humans behind them who can’t be trusted. A little later they did another one of his songs, one with a vintage 50s country vibe possibly called Baptised in Fire, with a lyric and vocals to match the angst of the title. Mad Mad Baby gave Antonakos another chance to go out on a limb and then pull the entire crew back from Wes Montgomery-land to solid country ground in seconds flat. They closed the set with a sultry New Orleans vamp and eventually a raw, plaintive version of CC Rider that Seay dedicated to her husband, a bass player (it was his birthday – what a present this show was, especially for a fellow musician). Seay plays Otto’s on the 22nd at 7:30 PM; it’s safe to say that her voice will transcend anything the PA system there might throw at her.