Concert Review: Kathy Mattea and Suzy Bogguss

Kathy Mattea (L) and Suzy Bogguss (R), Jewett Auditorium, College of Idaho, Caldwell, Idaho

Two of Nashville’s best singers shared the stage last week in a two hour long concert at the College of Idaho in Caldwell. Two long-time friends and collaborators, Kathy Mattea and Suzy Bogguss, are touring together, sharing the stage.

They opened the show with a lovely interpretation of the Carter Family’s 1937 song “Hello Stranger,” alternating the lead with each stanza, taking the old Carter Family chestnut and turning it into a song welcoming us to the show. Their version was smoother than a lot of others, without getting that over-polished, Nashville sound. It was a clever, well-performed opener. And, as it turned out, the oldest song they performed in their show.

Kathy Mattea has a lovely mezzo contralto voice with an impressive range. Suzy Bogguss has a slightly higher mezzo soprano that reminded WC of the late Nanci’s Griffith’s breathy voice. The two voices work exceptionally well together and their harmonies were a thing of delight.

Both artists are better known as interpreters of others’ songs than as songwriters, although both have written some fine tunes. And both have skated that fine line between Americana and country western music. The set included a sweet, heartfelt tribute to their mutual friend, the late Nanci Griffith, including “Love at the Five and Dime,” “Gulf Coast Highway” and “Outbound Plane.”

They sang some of their own hits – both artists have multiple Grammy awards – including Mattea’s “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” and “455 Rocket;” and Bogguss’s “Letting Go,” “Drive South,” and “Hey Cinderella.” In the encore, they gave us Ian Tyson’s “Someday Soon,” which includes some absolutely awesome yodeling by Bogguss. The last time WC had seen “Someday Soon” performed live was by Ian and Sylvia at The Quiet Knight in Chicago, in 1974. As good as Sylvia Tyson’s yodeling was, Suzy smoked her. And you had to smile at the second chorus of yodeling, where Mattea, working form a crib sheet, yodeled along with Bogguss.

Just the two women and their guitars on a bare stage, telling stories, sharing memories, singing songs and wrapping their audience in that warmth and delight you can only get at a live concert. Lord, WC has missed live music. It’s good to have it back. It was great to see these two excellent musicians.

Mattea is the new host of Mountain Stage, the long-running NPR live music feature, replacing the retiring host (and show founder), Larry Groce. She’s doing a fine job, but WC wishes Kathy herself would sing just a little more…

Thanks to Kathy Mattea and Suzy Bogguss for an excellent evening.