Singer/songwriter makes return to live performing

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 12:00am

Nashville vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Caroline Peyton has never enjoyed widespread fortune and fame, although two albums she made back in the 1970s for BRBQ Records have long been collector’s items.

Peyton’s music brilliantly fused elements of folk, jazz, blues, country and jazz, and her releases contained ambitious arrangements and energetic, sometimes frenzied solos. They featured songs that explored so many idioms they truly couldn’t be shoehorned into any marketing niche.

“I guess I was just ahead of my time,” Peyton said with a laugh. “It was what I call ‘art songs. We really didn’t think much about whether they might be commercial or not. I know there are some incredible players on these recordings, guys who’ve gone on to make great records with other people.”

But Peyton underestimates her own contributions. The newly remastered editions of Mock Up and Intuition (both issued by Numero records with extra tracks, video features and outstanding liner notes from Nashville critic Ed Hurt) reveal a voice with extensive range, distinctive color and punch at both the top and bottom.

There’s also a conceptual boldness that continually emerges in such songs as “The Sky in Japan is Always Close to You,” “Sweet Misery” and “Bill Monroe” from Mock Up or “Donkey Blues,” “Call of the Wind,” and “All This Waiting” from Intuition.

Now Peyton, who’s been living for several years in Brentwood and lately doing mainly religious singing (liturgical hymns at her church), will return to the stage for the first time in years tonight at The Basement, appearing as part of a showcase for AIMS/CIMS representatives (independent record store owners) along with Clem Snide and the Dexateens.

“It’s going to be an interesting night,” Peyton said. “Because I’m rushing over there from church and switching from doing liturgies to the blues, jazz, folk and whatever. It will be a real test, but one I’ve been preparing for and am really excited about.”

Peyton’s soaring, enchanting voice was especially prominent during her time as lead singer of the Screaming Gypsy Bandits during the early ‘70s. That band’s repertoire was extremely diverse, and both Peyton and Mark Bingham’s collaborations, which began with the Mock Up LP, evolved and flowered during that period.

But good reviews in such magazines as Downbeat for the band’s live dates, as well as favorable critical reaction to Peyton’s albums didn’t manage to break the Bandits or the recordings into the mainstream.

Bingham was Peyton’s principal musical collaborator for a lengthy period but the two later went their separate ways, and Peyton relocated to Los Angeles, where she did more recording and performing in everything from punk bands to folk and rock groups.

She spent much of the ‘80s and ‘90s doing musical theater, including a stint in Pirates of Penzance during Linda Ronstadt’s tenure.

“My old classmate Kevin Kline was responsible for that one,” Peyton said. “He really loved my singing and knew me and they wanted him in the cast. He went to bat for me and that’s what really got me involved in that project.”

While she’s been involved with the industry in many capacities, Peyton looks back fondly on her time in Indiana, particularly the musicians she met and experiences she had.

But now her focus is back on those two albums and what will come with the release of their remasters.

“If there’s interest, I’m not opposed to going out on the road again or doing more recording. I just don’t have any illusions now about those things. It’s still about the song and the music for me, just like it was then,” Peyton said.

What: Vocalist and guitarist Caroline Peyton doing an acoustic set along with Clem Snide and the Dexateens

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday

Where: The Basement, 1604 Eighth Ave. S.

Cost: $8

Info: 254-1806, thebasementnashville.com

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