- By Alan Richard
MARY BRAGG, KYSHONA: BACK IN GEORGIA
Updated: Aug 1, 2021
Two of Nashville's best emerging singer-songwriters, Mary Bragg and Kyshona (Armstrong), brought their show to Eddie’s Attic, the music room and bar in Decatur, Ga., that has nourished artists for decades, just down the street from downtown Atlanta.
These artists and friends show the crossroads of American roots music: Bragg, a thoughtful progressive Americana writer whose songs could be major country hits, and Kyshona, a soulful folk and pop singer influenced by the civil rights movement and by those left out of the mainstream.
Bragg kicked off her set at the March show with the slow and sultry “Fool,” from her strong new album, Violets as Camouflage that has earned national attention from NPR Music, Rolling Stone Country, and many others.
On “Fixed,” another track from her new record, she edged into more modern-pop territory than on some of her more country and Americana-based material. Bragg seemed to be singing to her younger self: “You’re a good, good find. You can make your own light shine. Beautiful star, just as you are. ... You don’t need to be fixed.” (See music video at bottom of page.)
Another more modern track, “Fight,” sung on the album with co-writer Robby Hecht in nearly a whisper, reaching a tense emotional crescendo. “If you run from me and I run from you, the lies we believe will all come true,” Bragg sang during her set. (See music video at bottom of page.)
Based in part on own experience of leaving a business career in New York City to pursue music full-time in 2014, Bragg said the smart but catchy country song "Faint of Heart” also is about her parents’ hard work in their small-town print shop in south Georgia. “We bought generic coffee from a dusty bottom shelf. Sold sour cream pound cakes on the side to pay the bills,” she sang to a bluesy opening rift. Chasing a dream “ain’t for the faint of heart," she declared. (See music video at bottom of page.)
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(Photos: 1. From left, Mary Bragg, Kyshona and band member perform at Eddie's Attic. 2. Bragg. 3. Bragg. 4. Kyshona performing at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.)
On “More Than You Do,” Bragg’s most straightforward song from her new record, she pleaded for listeners to follow her grandmother’s advice: “Spend every day doing what you’re meant to do.”
Bragg also showed off her great singing and writing about heartbreak: The retro-country “I Thought You Were Somebody Else” would fit perfectly on a Patsy Cline record. (See music video below.) Bragg's south-Georgia twang showed on the lighter “Trouble Me Anytime,” and on the waltz “A Little Less,” she lamented that she cries "a little less, each time I cry.”
She followed with two gorgeous songs from her previous record, the straight-ahead Americana album Lucky Strike. “You’re brilliant, you’re beautiful, and it’s keeping me awake,” Bragg sang in the opening line of the passionate and unforgettable “Wildfire.” (See music video below.)
Her most beautiful vocals of the night emerged on the delicate “Comet,” a telling of a mother and daughter’s journey moving faster than a speeding car on a Southern highway, when she sang, “We’re still wide awake, getting closer, I’m counting exit signs. Without a sound, flying over foreign ground… We’re taking flight, we’re a comet in the night.”
“The Right Track,” another memorable song from Bragg's newest album, took on more of a bluegrass feel live than on the record. “Don’t it feel like you can hang the moon when you’re rollin’?” she sang. “It’ll all make sense once you’ve been to hell and back. If it looks like the long way on the wrong train, you’re on the right track.” (See music video below.)
For Bragg’s finale, the rock-rooted title cut from Lucky Strike, Kyshona leapt on stage to join her, effortlessly hitting perfect harmony notes just as her feet landed on the wooden stage floor. (See music video below.)
Kyshona, who has had her songs featured on network television shows and opened for acts ranging from Wynonna to Lake Street Drive, began her own set with “Keep On Marchin’,” a tribute to her father and grandfather who played guitar and traveled in gospel groups, from her forthcoming new album.
Another new track, “Too Much,” recalled her years living in Atlanta, where Kyshona worked as a music therapist who wrote with prisoners and people dealing with mental illness. Kyshona said the experience led her to focus on being a “voice for the silenced” in her music. She described her recent work with the Country Music Hall of Fame’s meaningful “Words and Music” children’s writing program.
Kyshona said she wrote the somber “My Own Grave” to reflect on her own health and mortality: “I’ve always walked the line of lonely… I regret the time I’ve wasted,” she sang. “All these childish thoughts have faded. These words are now my own legacy.”
Closing her portion of the show, Kyshona described how her four tours of England have helped her understand her own identity. Even in the U.K., she walked around as a black American from the South, she said.
But “no matter how we look… (or) who we love… we all bleed the same,” the South Carolina native pleaded, introducing perhaps her most moving and memorable song, “Same Blood.”
A blistering, soulful rock track on her 2017 album, The Ride 2.0, (see music video below) Kyshona performed it more reverently in the Atlanta show, the audience sing along on the chorus: “We all bleed the same blood, same blood, same blood…”