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Jedd Hughes, Sarah Buxton turn writer's round into jam session

The Rutledge, Nashville, April 3, 2008

Reviewed by Jessica Phillips

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What do you get when you combine the dizzying guitar skills of Jedd Hughes, the blissful vocals of Sarah Buxton and Lari White, the writing chops of Dave Barnes and Chuck Cannon, and a bit of alcoholic beverage? Very possibly one of the best collaborative shows of Tin Pan South.

Dave Berg started the night off with a rousing rendition of his current Chris Cagle hit, "What Kind of Gone" before playing the fresh love song, "Born Beautiful" ("everyone was born beautiful before the world got in the way/but you stayed that way"). Later in the evening, he showed off his penchant for a silly but smart lyric with "That's Good."

From the quirky "Everything Stays the Same" to the reflective Keith Urban hit, "Stupid Boy," newcomer Sarah Buxton's stage presence and effervescent personality brings to mind Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. Her performance of "Space" (written by Hughes and Buxton) was particularly passionate and angst ridden with its lyrics "You want space/I'll give you space/so you don't have to deal with anything real." Later, Buxton, who released an EP last summer, did several new duets with Hughes.

Hughes quickly established his incredible skill as an ace guitar player and effortless singer. Currently signed to Capitol, Hughes decided for forgo songs from his first MCA release, "Transcontinental," in favor of newer tracks from his upcoming album. Ironically, the shuffle of "Big Blue Sky," with the classic lyrics "when you get ready to fly/I'll be your big blue sky," would have fit in well on his earlier album. Hughes sounded like a country version of John Mayer on the catchy and soulful "Sweet On You."

Cannon added a thoughtful, introspective vibe to the evening with his songs, "Beautiful Girl," (an ode to the effect of media and celebrity on young girls) "Money Don't Matter No More," and "Pick Your Poison" ("anything can bring you pleasure/even pain").

Special guest White provided background vocals and keys for much of the night. Her low, throaty crooning was a perfect underscore for many of Buxton's high, grainy sound. Though best known as a much loved country vocalist, White's vocals sound more at home drenched in old-time blues and soul. "You Ain't Never Been Loved Right" and "Are You Man Enough to Love Me," brought a sensual feel to the evening.

Throughout the night, each of the performers requested drinks from onstage, which began to color their performances. Cannon launched into "Strangs," a loose jam with White and Hughes, engrossing the audience in a call-and-response time on the chorus. Coaxed into singing by Hughes, Buxton did an exaggerated cover version of Sugarland's "Something More," mimicking perfectly Nettles' onstage expressions. The ending song for the evening turned into a long improvised instrumental between White, Cannon, and Hughes, with the crowd and Buxton throwing out different lyrics such as "Thank you for letting me be myself."

(Photos of Sarah Buxton and Jedd Hughes by Jessica Phillips)