Nina Violet at The Black Swan

After attending a show by The Underscore Orkestra at The Black Swan in Tivoli, NY last Tuesday, I returned there that Friday night for a concert by Nina Violet. For a place that doesn’t have a phone or website The Black Swan sure does get some great musicians… (You can find The Black Swan on Facebook, if you’re so inclined).

Nina Violet’s vocals are comforting and warming, enveloping the listener in their heartiness. Her voice is as clear as a mountain brook, glorious as the sun, and free as the wind. In addition to singing and writing songs, Nina plays guitar and viola. Playing with her at The Black Swan were Angel Russell on trumpet, Matthew Cullen on bass and guitar, Adam Howl on guitar, and Marciana Jones on omnichord, keyboard, and vocals. Marciana has a beautiful voice as well, and when she sang with Nina the two created breathtaking harmonies. Their vocals combined are truly something extraordinary to behold — probably because they’re sisters. I’ve heard that siblings often have the most exquisite harmonies, which I’ve never thought to be particularly true. After hearing Marciana and Nina, however, I’m pretty much convinced.

All too often I find that female singers aren’t what I hoped when I finally see them live, but not Nina Violet. She blew me away. I was deeply moved by her performance, and she seemed right at home in the dimly lit, small town bar. She had a pleasant calm about her, while still being energetic. Her band was great, too. (My only complaint is that I didn’t like the inclusion of the trumpet. I thought that it detracted from the band’s sound, which I otherwise loved).  Musicians and audience were tucked away from the rest of the world for a while, both basking in a pleasant camaraderie. The music of Nina and her band is a little bit of everything, including — but not limited to — folk, blues, country, and soul. Nina led the way during the show, the other musicians backing her, and she’s a masterful storyteller. Nina has an easy charisma, and you can’t help but be drawn in. Without even realizing what was happening I found myself caring about the characters and narratives of the songs, lost in the individual worlds of each. The melodies draw you in as well, for they have a toxic beauty; they’re beautiful, yes, but they also bear a marked sadness and unrest. Maybe that’s why the songs are so appealing… The beauty they contain is not an empty beauty, but rather a complex one. Because of that the songs bear more relevance to humanity than if they contained a more shallow, simple beauty. Although the main focus of the band is Nina, the other musicians further the music. They all work together to create the depth the songs deserve, and without the stellar group the music wouldn’t be the same. To close her set Nina performed solo for the saddest and sweetest lullaby I’ve ever heard, “Everything Comes Apart,” which really showcased her tone and range.

*After Nina Violet and her band finished their last song the Jack Grace Band came on, although not before the crowd yelled and asked Nina to play another song which she graciously did. I didn’t stay for the Jack Grace Band’s set.

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