Madi Diaz, Justin Townes Earle At SoundLand

Videos by American Songwriter

Madi Diaz at Mercy Lounge, Sept. 24

According to Wikipedia, Madi Diaz doesn’t really exist. She pops up once in producer John Alagia’s entry and twice in the “Ten Out of Tenn” discography. Otherwise, she’s pretty much absent from the Internet’s largest user-generated encyclopedia.

What an oversight. After the Justin Townes Earle show came to a close on Friday night, SoundLand attendees spilled out of the Cannery Ballroom and into the parking lot below. The smartest ones walked next door to the Mercy Lounge, where Diaz’s quick set cemented her status as one of the festival’s brightest up-and-comers. Supported by a small backup band – including songwriting partner Kyle Ryan, who sported a bushy beard and hairstyle of 1970s classic rock proportions– she proceeded to sing the roof off the place, cycling her way through older songs as well as tracks from her upcoming Plastic Moon.

Fans who donated money to Plastic Moon’s creation via already own a digital copy. The rest of us will have to wait until next year, when the album receives its official release. If Diaz’s live performances are anything like her studio recordings, though, Plastic Moon mixes the breezier moments of folk-pop – think Kathleen Edwards circa “In State” – with the sort of quirky singer-songwriter pop one might hear at the Hotel Café. Songs like “Let’s Go,” with its hiccupped vocal refrain, sound a bit like Ingrid Michaelson without the melancholia.

Two years ago, Madi Diaz attracted some national attention for her YouTube’d cover of “Here I Go Again,” a stripped-down, surprisingly heartrending version of the Whitesnake original. This time, she led her band through an amplified version of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up,” treating the song like a Lita Ford-styled rock classic as opposed to a relic of the ‘80s. And it truly rocked, mostly because Diaz sang it in that cathartic, echoing voice of hers. Hell, she probably could’ve pulled off the lesser numbers from Abdul’s Spellbound, too… but sticking to Plastic Moon was definitely the better move.

photo by Joshua Black Wilkins

Justin Townes Earle at Cannery Ballroom, Sept. 24

Leave it to Justin Townes Earle, the Mayor of SoundLand, to put one of the weekend’s rowdiest crowds in place.

“Don’t tell me what to play,” he warned midway through his Friday evening performance at the Cannery Ballroom, chastising a fan who’d been shouting for “Slippin’ and Slidin’” since the very beginning. Later, when someone else called out for a Steve Earle classic, he lashed out again.

“To the guy who requested “Copperhead Road,” fuck you,” he said with a sly grin, pointing to the bottle in the guy’s hand and adding, “I remember my first beer, too.”

Earle didn’t seem genuinely peeved; he just wanted to get on with the show, which kicked off at 10:30 p.m. and wrapped up 75 minutes later with an encore performance of “Harlem River Blues,” performed as a gospel singalong with Jason Isbell, Joshua Black Wilkins and Shelly Colvin on backing vocals. After showing up to our American Songwriter Session in jeans and a trucker hat, Earle put on his Sunday best for the big gig, the majority of which also featured pixie violinist Amanda Shires and bombshell bassist Bryn Davies. There was no need for a drummer – the twangy, trebly thwack of Earle’s acoustic guitar was percussive enough – but the occasional metronome might’ve helped, particularly during sluggish versions of “One More Night in Brooklyn” and “Christchurch Woman.”

As a special treat for those who weren’t hurling song requests his way, Earle whipped out a few songs from his fourth album, which he’ll start recording in late October. One of the new numbers dealt with his parents’ divorce and the uphill battle to reform his drug habits – subjects he’s covered before, of course, but fine ingredients for country songs that croon and snarl in equal measure. Long live the Mayor.


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