Hillbilly Highway – Scott Nolan live at the Park Theatre

by Sheldon Birnie

Scott Nolan could be to Manitoba what Guy Clark is to Texas. A songwriter’s songwriter with an attention to the minutia of everyday life; drawing from a vast, detailed knowledge of all those who’ve walked the line before him; capable of delivering a heartbreaking line followed easily by a knee-slapper the next.

Last night at the Park Theatre, about 150 folks were treated to a tight performance from Nolan and his longtime collaborator Joanna Miller on drums and pitch perfect harmonies. The event was recorded, and Nolan plans to release it as a live record for Transistor 66 early in the new year.

“It’s part of these bootlegs I’ve been doing, this’ll put me at volume three,” Nolan said over the phone on Monday. “I’ve always wanted to record with just Joanna and I, but it’s hard to do that in the studio. Every time I try, I just keep adding things, I can’t leave it alone. I thought this would be the way to do it.”

Over 80 minutes, Nolan and Miller covered material from his four studio albums, and a couple new tracks as well. “Twister,” one of the new ‘uns, was a beautiful ditty about getting drunk on tequila and mama’s pickle brine, peppered with references to Hank Williams, Joni Mitchell, Earth Wind & Fire, and Bobby Bare. “Bad Liver & A Broken Heart” got the crowd fired up, as did a number of tracks off this year’s Montgomery Eldorado. They ended the night with a hot ass hell version of “Famous in Texas” from Nolan’s independent 2001 debut Postcards.

For the ten years between that initial release and last night’s recording, the Highway has become a second home to Nolan.

“I love it every time I head out,” the gravelly voiced singer admits. “It’s one of those places you can constantly go to that doesn’t change as quickly as everything else. Every tour starts out with a couple days of anxiety for me, and then I crack city limits and I’m fine. It’s great to get out there you know, it’s still a trucker’s road. I like that.”

2012 sees Nolan hitting the Highway again early in the year, with the new, as yet untitled live release to peddle around the southern states. He may even have a film crew in tow…

“Well there’s some of the people that were involved in making the documentary about my label [Happily Dysfunction: The Story of Transistor 66], they’ve got a commission from MTS to follow me on tour and do a film about the craft of songwriting,” Nolan says, “and kind of the lifestyle that comes attached to it.”

As far as making a film on the craft of songwriting goes, Nolan is certainly the guy to be following around. If you’ve never seen him, keep your eyes on local listings and catch him while you can. Some Sundays you can even luck out and catch him, free of charge, at the Standard Tavern. I recommend you enjoy the experience with a cold one, and maybe a tight shot of bourbon on the side…

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