Nashville-based singer-songwriter Jill Andrews has been playing Asheville for perhaps longer than she cares to remember — like in 2007 and 2008 at The Grey Eagle with The Everybodyfields, which she fronted with Sam Quinn. By 2010 she was a solo artist which sounds like downsizing except that she was opening for the likes of Willie Nelson. So her return to The Grey Eagle on Friday, opening for Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek (currently on his solo tour), was — not surprisingly — pretty comfortable.
Early in the evening Andrews realized her setlist was missing (perhaps the doing of an over-zealous fan?) and, after a quick search, decided to wing it. “I’m just going to play a bunch of old songs and some new songs,” she said. “Because there aren’t any other options.”
Her offerings ranged from the bittersweet “Worth Keeping” (“When you could be straight ahead, you go sideway/When you’re lying in your bed it’s a long way from the place that you want it to be”) to the achingly lovely “These Words” (written about “a guy I dated who was kind of a doucheball”). Between songs she talked about weathering a recent ice storm: “I took it as an opportunity to hand out in the snow and make snow cream,” she said. “We made chocolate and almond because with my son, vanilla is not good enough.”
Andrews’ son has inspired at least one song — the tender “Blue Eyes,” which reminds a bit of ’70s-era folk singer Kate Wolf. In fact, listening to Andrews its apparent that while she got her start in an indie band she’s evolved into a singer-songwriter in the tradition of, say, Joni Mitchell. A new, as-yet-unrecorded song, “Us” definitely tapped into that oeuvre, though not in a derivative away. Instead it’s the authenticity of emotion and the spirit of storytelling. That, and the bouncy rhythm, the thoughtful lyrics, the run of half notes that showcases Andrews’ voice as something remarkable. Unembellished but exquisite.
“The Mirror,” a little poppy and maximizing the duskiness of Andrews’ vocal, was a high point in the set — as was her stage banter about a new record that she hopes to release soon. She’s currently shopping for a label. “I might just end up throwing it at people and walking away,” she joked. “But that probably wouldn’t be a very smart business move.”
The set ended with the heartfelt “My love is For.” Lyrically evocative and expansive, the song was the first of the evening that begged for a backing band. Not that Andrews didn’t pull it off by herself, but it did suggest the singer-songwriter would also make a fine front woman. She’s done it before, after all.