Coralee and the Townies: Tribute to Loretta Lynn
10 p.m. Jan. 6 at Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Ave. $8. (859) 309-9499. Cosmic-charlies.com.
Over the past few months, Lexington Americana singer Coralee has stepped slightly outside the vintage country and soul orbits of her own music.
Last month alone, she joined a coalition of fellow Lexington artists in the annual tribute to The Band's The Last Waltz, participated in a smaller club salute to Bob Dylan's album Blonde on Blonde, and wound up in an all-star quintet on New Year's Eve that ushered in 2012 by playing the songs of Led Zeppelin.
Don't get the idea, however, that Coralee has forsaken her country-roots band, Coralee and the Townies, or the robust original music that fuels its repertoire. There is, in fact, a new Townies tune (Always, Darlin') available for download online.
But as the singer shifts artistic priorities back to her own songs — and the recording of a new album — the idea for one more musical tribute came along.
For her performance Friday at Cosmic Charlie's, which is being viewed essentially as a fund-raiser to help cover upcoming studio costs, she is splitting the evening in two parts. Her second set will focus exclusively on original songs. But the first half of the evening will be devoted to the music of another grand Kentucky country spirit: Loretta Lynn.
"People ask us to play Loretta songs all the time," Coralee said. "We've always done (the 1966 classic) You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man). And it's always been a big hit. So I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to make the show into a special event and hopefully draw out some people who haven't seen us before."
Coralee said the thrust of her newer music isn't shifting dramatically from the soul-blasted traditional country that has been the Townies' specialty in recent years. But as the singer dipped deeper into Lynn's immense catalog, she came to admire the emotive and musical efficiency of the songs it contained. It is an attribute she hopes to convey in her own writing.
"It's been a pretty good lesson in — and I almost hate to say this — commercial songwriting. Loretta's songs are so quick. The solos are kept so short. But the songs accomplish so much in such a brief period of time. That's been a really interesting and kind of humorous thing for us to figure out as we're going through all of this material.
"One of the things about playing the Loretta stuff is that the songs she picked and the songs that she wrote herself are the kinds of songs that I like to write. Those kinds of things are fundamentally country. They are told with simple, common language but are still very clever.
"I'm not a very abstract songwriter. In my experience with the Zeppelin covers and the Bob shows, my reaches are expanding. But the Americana/country/soul stuff is what I love. That's going to come through no matter what."
So what specific Loretta Lynn tunes egg on a versed disciple like Coralee when assembling a tribute set?
"I love singing Blue Kentucky Girl. She didn't actually write that song, but she had a big hit with it," Coralee said of the song that became a Top 10 country single for Lynn in 1966 and again for Emmylou Harris in 1979. "That's one of my favorites to sing, perhaps for obvious reasons.
"But I also love Fist City and Don't Come Home a'Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind) — her songs with attitude. That's the stuff I like to kind of project in my own songwriting. Those are really fun for me. But we've also worked up two songs for the show from the (Grammy-winning 2004) Van Lear Rose album. That is one of my favorites."
But in immersing herself so deeply in the music of Lynn, Zeppelin and Dylan of late, how is there even time for Coralee to write the new songs she hopes to record?
"Honestly, at this point, I've been so busy memorizing lyrics and cover songs," she said. "We had the first Bob show last month but have had the Loretta tribute planned for a couple of months. And then we threw the Led Zeppelin thing in the middle. Now we've got another Bob show coming up. I've yet to sit down for an extended period of time and do some songwriting.
"But I've got a huge back catalog that I'm desperate to get in and record, so I'm really excited. I can feel all this music welling up inside of me."