Canadian singer-songwriter Bella White put on one of those performances Wednesday night at EXIT/IN in Nashville that make you feel like you’re witnessing something great right before the whole world finds out about it. Those moments that, in a few years, you’ll be bragging to your friends about having been there for.
Bella’s sound is distinct and entirely her own, her hypnotizing vibrato drawing listeners in like a siren song, giving her sad songs a breath of enchantment. Steeped in bluegrass and traditional country musicianship her performance was classic and familiar with lyrical content that offers intimacy and introspection.
For the entire length of the 45-minute set the crowd was absolutely captivated and kept to a low-murmur, if anyone spoke at all. The raucousness of the weekend subsided for a moment and, like moths to flame, we all packed in, keeping our eyes and ears on the glow.
The highlight of the evening was hearing our fan-favorite ‘Rhododendron’ in the flesh. With its sweeping strings and lilting piano work, the track slowly builds contemplative introspection on her own ability to unconditionally love.
Nearing the end of her set, Bella played her song ‘Marilyn’. Introducing the song by recounting the story of hearing an older man say some very nasty things about his partner.
Part character sketch, part incendiary outpouring, the sprawling ‘Marilyn’ channels both sorrow and anger. “All the time she spent/Learning to love again/What he thought was awful/Like her belly growing softer/After she birthed their baby daughter/I still cannot comprehend/All the sadness that I feel for sweet Marilyn.”
Bella closed out her phenomenal set by surprising the crowd with her cover of Neil Young’s ‘Unknown Legend’ which was released the following day. The cover is a striking rendition that feels more like an homage as Bella has taken the song and made it entirely her own.
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All photos by Laura Ord