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Songwriters Mindy Smith, Karyn Rochelle, Sarah Siskind, Josh Kear "Shine"

12th and Porter, Nashville, April 3, 2009

Reviewed by Jessica Phillips

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Most of the time, we use music to set the mood - whether it's Take Me Out to the Ballgame blaring from the bleachers over home plate, love songs at a wedding or pounding rhythms at any nightclub. But sometimes mood sets the music, as it did during an intimate night of song, which featured some of Big Yellow Dog Music's publishing house most talented writers. The small venue and a clean, sparse stage accompanied by simple subdued lighting, really allowed the songs to breathe and live during this Tin Pan South event.

Josh Kear kicked things off with the nostalgic Forever Seventeen, which included the lines "midnight chardonnay to chase the edge off the day," and the ode to a distant father, One More Memory I Never Had. Kear has a great voice and solid lyrics, with an interesting penchant for writing songs geared towards women singers, particularly I Don't Want to Waste Good Lipstick on You, and his first big break, Carrie Underwood's smash Before He Cheats. Looking embarrassed as he sang the line "the next time he cheats/you know it won't be on me" - Kear yelled "Damn right!" before adding a few lines Underwood probably never thought of singing - "He can keep his white trash Barbie doll/she'll probably give him something Ajax can't take off." He finished with a song on Martina McBride's current album, Wild Rebel Rose.

Soulful songstress Sarah Siskind offered her version of the lush Simple Love, which was featured on Alison Krauss' "A Hundred Miles or More" album, and won a Grammy for the bluegrass singer for Best Female Country Performance in 2006. Lovin's For Fools was covered by indie rock band Bon Iver, and Siskind sang it confidently, even if her vocals were slightly pitchy at times. The high, bluegrass-inspired Everyday Learning could easily fit with Vince Gill's lofty tenor voice.

High expectations for the talented singer-songwriter Mindy Smith may have been expected, but things didn't start off well, as Smith had to borrow fellow songwriter Karyn Rochelle's guitar for most of the evening. She began with a new song she had written just that week, offering the disclaimer, "I may not remember any of the words." As she sang the lilting and fresh Everything Will Be Fine, her voice sounded soft and haunting, but throughout the rest of the evening, you got the feeling that entertaining may not be her strong suit. She came off shy at best, and at worst, a little boring. "Tin Pan South was the first place I ever won a contest," she said, referring to an amateur songwriting contest held by NSAI, before offering the obligatory "glad to be living my dreams" tune, Tennessee .

The poignant Shine had a beautiful melody and a positive outlook, like many of Smith's songs. Got a Little Ahead was boppy and sweet, if a little scattered. She would have been better off with songs like Jolene or One Moment More . Finally she gave the crowd what they wanted - her signature hit, the dark and hopeful Come to Jesus .

Rochelle has penned songs for the likes of Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes. Kellie Pickler seems to particularly like her stuff, as two of Rochelle's tunes, Red High Heels and What You'd Say to Me, became Pickler's biggest hits. Rochelle sounded confident, sassy and in her element with these songs of course, having fun with Heels and sounding appropriately wistful on the latter Pickler tune.

Rochelle also offered the stone-cold country I Wish He'd Been Drinking Whiskey (LeAnn Womack should record this one), the old-western sounding Cowboys Are My Weakness and a newer song, I Like It Like That. She closed with the Yearwood hit, Georgia Rain, which sounded beautiful, but lacked its usual intensity without Yearwood's powerful vocal behind it. It was a solid set, but she sang most of these songs at last year's Tin Pan South, which leaves any listener to imagine the good songs she's come up with in the meantime.

Whether the music was sassy, defiant, regretful, optimistic, or nostalgic, the mood was right, and the crowd wanted one moment more.