7/6/2011 12:22:53 PM

Review by Randi Wilson
Splash InternSome musicians make good recordings. Others hold great live concerts. But it takes a special group to be able to do both.

On June 26, I was fortunate enough to see two different artists whose recordings were strong, but their performances showed me what real artists they are. I attended the homecoming concert for Olivia Brownlee, daughter of Scott and Pamela Brownlee, owners of the Rockin’ B Ranch, 3912 N. Spokane Bridge Road. She showcased her talents on a wide variety of instruments, including both classical and acoustic guitar, the djembe, harmonic and banjo. Jay Psaros, who played the acoustic guitar, is the other artist who joined Brownlee at the Rockin’ B. Together, the two have made their way across the country as rising independent folk artists who have begun to make a name for themselves – with good reason.

The Rockin’ B was a perfect venue for them. Not only did Brownlee feel right at home, but Psaros did a tour to Spokane last year and has played in the hall before. It also complimented their bluegrass folk music that they strummed out for the 90 minutes they graced the stage. The audience was extremely receptive, and Psaros commented on it being “very quiet,” perfect for his instrumental pieces.

“Other places you have to earn the attention,” Psaros said. Brownlee added, “It’s very humbling,” but it was clear that venues like the Rockin’ B is where they would rather perform.

First, Psaros gave a set on stage by himself, then he traded off with Brownlee and then they came together at the end with a few other musicians. But they both had to face the crowd alone on stage, unaccompanied. When I asked after the performance if this was ever a nerve-wracking experience, Psaros said that “as soon as I start playing” the nerves vanish. For Brownlee, once she can get into the “mood and the stories of the song,” she’s able to let her performance and theatre background carry her into the music.

When Brownlee took the stage for her set, her parents introduced her, and both were glowing with pride. As her dad said, “It’s not every day that you get to introduce your own daughter.” They left her to perform on her own, showing off her range and dynamic lyrics.

The last part was a compilation of Brownlee and Psaros together, but even then they weren’t alone. They invited a few members up to the stage from the Rockin’ B Dinner Show cast to help them with a few numbers. Drummer Gordon Grove added a little more rhythm to “Mountainridge,” even though their sense of time was tight from beginning to end of every piece. On another song, vocalist Sam Mazzola added a third harmony with Brownlee’s mother adding in to sing a ghostly soprano that floated above the trio on stage.

Throughout the show, the humor of both artists shone as brightly as their musical talents. After every song, Psaros would tune his guitar, a tick he attributed to Brownlee, saying that she would berate him if he didn’t.

“As Olivia would say, tuning is like airplane maintenance; it’s always a good idea.”

And Brownlee showed her mastery of humor in her songwriting as well, such as with her brisk piece, “Hey You, We Need a Date, We Need It Now,” in which she poked fun at her own relationship neediness. She even broke down into a fake, tearful, “I’m fine,” before closing the song with the line, “I’m tired; can we do it tomorrow?”

While both are strong performers and humorists in their own right, it was clear that their individual strengths helped to create something different when they came together at the end.

“Jay is more instrumental than vocals; I’m the opposite,” Brownlee said.

Together, they were able to shine in their strengths and create a seamless sound.

For now, however, they will continue to play separately. Psaros acknowledged that to audiences, “more is better than less,” and two well-known singer/songwriters coming together is much more impressive than if a band has to break up in the future with members having to find their own way. So they will continue writing and performing alone as they keep working together to move forward in their music.

For Brownlee, at least, however far she goes in music, she will never be far from her local roots. She has come from a musical and theatrical background, which all stemmed from her parents and the Rockin’ B. She said she’s been “blessed” to have family members that are both “true people and performers.”

“They’ve taught me that it’s OK to perform as long as you know the difference,” she said.

Liberty Lake resident and Washington and Lee University student Randi Wilson is interning with The Splash this summer.