The musicality of Amanda Broadway has undergone a slew of stylistic shifts over the years.
Starting out as a self-driven singer-songwriter in from Brockport, New York and eventually moving to the music metropolis of Nashville, TN, Broadway went from releasing songs independently to gradually connecting with a more community-centric approach to making music. In tandem with that came the appeal of big band funky soul. Since easing into that sonic space through integration with a local group like the Music City Toppers and regular performances at the Acme Feed and Seed, Broadway came to cultivate a band of her own. In short, Amanda Broadway’s musical story has only become more intertwined with the camaraderie and creativity of Music City, which goes far deeper than the touristy flash of lights on the city’s main thoroughfare.
Now in 2020, that story has reached a meaningful new milestone with the release of The Amanda Broadway Band’s debut LP, The Ache (Mrs. Marway Records, 2020).
The Amanda Broadway Band is:
Amanda Broadway (Vocals)
Shane Lamb (Guitar)
Kent Toalson (Keys)
Max McKee (Bass)
Nate Felty (Drums)
Mikie Martel (Trumpet)
Ryan Latham (Sax)
Amber Woodhouse (Vocals)
Maureen Murphy (Vocals)
Though several months removed since the February landing of The Ache, the very timing of listening to this project now in October gives the music even more of an emotional impact. Just barely reaching the cusp of completion before everything came to a halt worldwide the following month, in light of everything that has transpired since the album was originally released, The Ache’s creative statement starts with a rallying single of almost prophetic proportions.
A stellar opening track and concise sonic summation of everything appealing and astute about the Amanda Broadway Band’s chemistry, every element of “Leave Your Light On” shines with the qualities appreciated in a strong big band soul track: Straightforward but memorable hook; smooth lyrical transitions; clever wordplay; shrewd song structure; and – most-importantly – flawless arrangement and performance coordination among all the members. This is especially impactful at the drop of the chorus, where Broadway’s vocal cohorts, Amber Woodhouse and Maureen Murphy, deliver a precise and dynamically bold vocal bolster to key action phrases in the song’s message.
(Stand up / You gotta leave your light on / Look out / for each other and leave your light on / Show up / You gotta leave your light on / Reach out / to each other and leave your light on)
Indeed, this song pre-dates all of the social upheaval and unabashed calls for change and recognition of systemic racism via protest, that proceeded to rise up in the days following the death of George Floyd. For such a dramatic first impression to also end up being the perfect song of solidarity is likely more the luck of the musical draw than anything but, as the other nine tracks on The Ache go to show, there’s no doubt the band couldn’t or wouldn’t have ended up composing and recording this exact song, if not something utterly similar, after the fact as well.
The music that follows across the The Ache isn’t caught with the same conscientious coincidence but musically, the ensemble’s established character only coalesces more with every track. “BS Blues” immediately pivots the band to a slower, more deliberate tempo. However, the energy level doesn’t dissipate in the least. Where the tempo ebbs, the instrumental direction flares, with the guitars, bass, and drums taking the lead with momentum and giving the song a quick heaviness to complement the slower pace and more note-minimal hook. There’s a stomp and swagger to the music’s flow and Broadway’s vocals getting just a touch of vintage, jagged distortion makes the song seem a strong fit for slotting next to music by the likes of Jack White – specifically as a seamless warm-up to the slightly more aggressive Raconteurs.
Still, it’s not as though Broadway needs any fanciful effects whatsoever to make her statements and make them stick. Her naturally strong voice, which has been carefully nurtured and refined over the years and many pursuits, can more than hold its own and give listeners pause without any added topping, as tracks like “Leavin'” openly present.
More lyric than hook driven, more of the subtle strengths in Broadway’s singing style, beyond her impressive (and properly supported) dynamic belting are given space to be heard. While syllabic cushions in her vocal part between verses are understandable places for extra performance finesse to shine, just the song’s titular refrain, “(I’m) Leavin'” is amusingly, left enough alone for her natural quiver-esque vibrato to echo off the very last consonant of the word. It’s one of the smaller details on the recording but with that few micro seconds of wavering vocal hanging off before the music turns to the next new word, it’s almost like a performative parallel for the last remnants of indecision that might be in the back of Broadway’s mind before affirming the choice to firmly go and not look back. Those tiny creative alignments on a recording can sometimes go completely unnoticed but are like a delightful, sparkling garnish if caught amid the grandiosity of the main musical course.
Right off that very open track, “Groove'” tilts the tables again, showcasing the inherent potential of a group when nine people combine their skills and style. Far more instrumentation is at play from the start of this track, with Toalson’s keys fostering an otherworldly touch with a tremolo-like distorted organ line. This strange effect pushes the undercurrent below a syncopated guitar before snappy snare hits and McKee’s bass – with an utterly piercing slap tone – affix the song to a rhythmic momentum that can only in fact be described as “groovin.” Though Broadway slides in effortlessly on her parts and easily contributes more of her own panache to that of the band’s music, this track is a clear demonstration of the band’s potential at front and center, with several instrumental passages giving the song a great spotlight of instrumental funk. Furthermore, it also highlights the thoroughly collaborative spirit of the band which, despite carrying Broadway’s name, combines and prioritizes the creative input of the whole group.
The choice to close out the album with the the titular track makes sense at face value but offers somewhat of a surprise when the song’s actual musical direction unfolds. A notably quieter, more contemplative, and emotionally raw piece, the minimized instrumentation of arpeggiating guitar, fluttering organ tones, and a plodding snare to cymbal groove, seem to be leading the listener toward – if not a more emotionally subdued, more sonically settled ending. However, while a delicate descend as an ending is certainly a viable route, the Amanda Broadway Band decide to swerve away from the subtle exit ramp at the last moment, instead vying for the slow but ultimately far more emotionally and performative impressive ascending hill all the way through the song’s back half.
The result for the listener is a steady layering upon layering of deliberate instrumental performance; densely arranged, dynamically intense parts; emotively delivered flashes of solos; and eventually just a complete coming together and evoking of the band’s fullest musical power. Chorus-like layers of backup vocals combine with Broadway’s piercing leads, atop a beautifully assembled mountain of all the band’s parts. Here, where words fade in favor of sheer feeling and power sewn into fully liberated syllable singing, the final unified sound is nothing short of ovation-worthy in its bone-chilling dramatic delivery. Minimal chord changes in the instrumentation underneath help to nudge the phrasing forward and just add the last push of emotional inertia, as the melody leaves the end of the song ready to burst with energy at the final resolving chord, with every member of the band putting its best out for the mics.
In a time where the world is so painfully denied live performance from a band like this one, the “ache” listening to this finale leaves is really from a reminder of what the world is missing. But also, more positively, from processing the sheer weight of sincere artistic intent put into to every moment of this recording – with particular attention given at the end. Through and through, The Ache is a living, evolving testament of what Amanda Broadway has amassed in human relationships and creative insight over her time in Nashville, and while the world waits for the fire of live music to burn brightly again, one can take heart with a record like this, which managed to capture everything that is indescribably beloved about a tightly knit band making music in a room all together.
Hopefully soon we can all be in the room to hear them do it too.
Stay connected with The Amanda Broadway Band through its official website and these social media platforms: