Mary Johnson Rockers, well, rocks the Blue Plate Special

Mary Johnson Rockers laughing before the show

When writing about Mary Johnson Rockers it’s hard not to go for the play off the last name. It’s just a little too precious but, as it turns out, it’s actually her married name. I’m not saying she didn’t go out of her way to find the guy just to take his last name, but I wouldn’t blame her if she did. He was actually present at the performance at the WDVX Blue Plate Special and the couple seemed very much in love with each other and their little one.

Mary Johnson Rockers, WDVX Blue Plate Special, Knoxville

It was actually that kind of day. Mary is originally from Maryville (supply your own punch line) and while in for a visit with her family for the holidays, stopped by the Blue Plate along with approximately 10,000 of her closest family members for a solo performance. It was her second appearance, the first coming several years ago, and her charm and talent certainly seem sufficient for many happy returns.

And what of the music? Americana would broadly cover it. She has clear country roots with a folk flair. She has one of those magical voices that can seduce sweetly one moment and growl menacingly the very next. In some respects she reminded me of Mary Gauthier, but a more happy Mary Gauthier.

Mary Johnson Rockers, WDVX Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, 12/11

One thing they have in common is excellent songwriting. Ms. Rockers mixed in songs from each of her first two albums, No Place for Birds to Rest (2008) and her most recent Hummingbird Heart (2011). (Both albums are available on CD Baby and Itunes.) The first thing I noticed was the attention she gives to varying rhythms in her songs particularly in distinctive beginnings on songs such as Whippoorwill and Beautiful Things.

Mary Johnson Rockers, WDVX Blue Plate Special, Knoxville

Her most personal songs rang the truest. She performed Cleveland from her new album, which she introduced as a love song about a previous love – which must be a little awkward for her and her husband. Penny on the Tracks was a stand-out as was the above mentioned Beautiful Things about her grandmother which included my favorite verse of the day, “Well Willie asked Mary for her hand and Mary asked the Lord, ‘Should he be my man? He’s a Baptist boy, I’m a good Catholic girl. Well, but oh Lord I love him so, give me a sign so that I can know,” and it rang clear and true in a parking lot on Dixie Avenue.'”

My favorite was the heartbreaking and, presumably autobiographical Hummingbird Heart, the title track from the new CD. It is Mary at her best and her best is very good. I’d encourage you to give a listen to her songs. If you like well-written Americana from a strong vocalist, I think you’ll be happy you did.


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