This is my new favorite performance to watch,and rewatch and rewatch….

Everything about it is pretty much perfect, and that is a word I do not like to use, but from the depth of the song, to this particular staging, to the absolute angel throat of Clare Bowen, this performance is stunning and captivating on every possible level. Last night, after listening to it probably a dozen times throughout the day, I showed it to a friend who, like me, has a deep love and reverence for artistry. “You will love this,” I said. I handed her my phone and she watched it speechless.

“Wow,” she said, and I nodded. “Yeah, I know.”

So this is from “Nashville,” a show I watch partly because I get to hear Clare Bowen’s superb voice and also because it’s a great hour-long reminder to pick up the guitar. I also love the idea of a show that creates its own original songs, because it’s given talented songwriters like Lucy Schwartz a chance to shine. Some of them are really country, really dumb or really country and dumb but some – like “Black Roses” – cut to the quick in the most sophisticated,contemporary kind of way. What a razor-tongued ballad, what a difficult dynamic to strike. To write a song about someone hurting you isn’t exactly unique – in fact, it’s pretty much the key ingredient – but there is a resiliency here  that adds a twist. Metaphors are tricky things, because they could become cliche, and roses of all things are overused. But they’ve been overused so much that using them right feels original and comfortable somehow – can’t you just feel the falling petals? The spell, cast and broken, the love, given and forsaken, these are real feelings and familiar tales to anyone whose heart has felt the magnetic pull of someone else’s only to have to tear themselves away. The battlefield, the knife, the burning bridges, – the first verse into the pre-chorus are six lines that immediately draw the listener into this really visible, danger-filled place. That’s arguably the strongest part of the whole, some context and wordplay in the second verse deepen the narrative before a powerful finale.

The recorded version of this is striking, adorned with military drums, but this live version is something else. Bowen’s expressions are not over-dramatic in the pop star sense, and on the demure side for her, but she is still so, so expressive, from the tops of her eyes to the joints of her fingers down to her apparently bare feet. I love how delicate her voice can be while still commanding so much sound and fullness and breath. Other than the sheer beauty of this staging (Those lights! Those gowns! Those crowd shots!), the intimacy of songwriter and performer here is such an interesting interplay to observe. There’s Schwartz, playing her song and watching her words and feeling come to life, she is laser-focused and half-smiling before the final verse and those just-high-enough-to-be-hard notes of the song, and I wonder if it pride or nerves for her, for Bowen, or simply sheer anticipation. The final chorus swells, the final grace notes and chords diminish with sadness and solemnity and poise, and then, the crowd is on its feet. Just perfect. Replay.

“I can see your eyes staring into mine,
But it’s a battlefield and you’re on the other side.
You can throw your words, sharper than a knife,
And leave me cold in another house on fire.

I lay low, lay low and watch the bridges burn
I lay low, lay low. What more could I have done?

Now you only bring me black roses,
And they crumble into dust when they’re held
Now you only bring me black roses,
Under your spell.

She told me twice all her good advice,
But I couldn’t see I was clouded by your lies.
Up in smoke, a vision she foretold,
She said, ‘Stay away ’cause that boy’s a warning sign.’

I lay low, lay low and watch the bridges burn.

And I’m done trying to be the one picking up the broken pieces,
And I’m done trying to be the one who says, ‘I love you dear but I’m leaving.’

Now you only bring me black roses
And they crumble into dust when they’re held
Now you only bring me black roses
But I’m not under your spell,

I’m not under your spell, 

I’m not under your spell,
I’m not under your spell,
I’m not under your spell.”
~Black Roses, 
Clare Bowen/Lucy Schwartz, Nashville On the Record