“I’ve lived almost half my life in Nashville, but this will always be home,” Maggie Rose said in her recent appearance at the Bethesda Theater. In front of a crowd that included many family members and friends, Maggie and her band played two sets, the first consisting of her original songs and the second of festive holiday tunes.
Though she lives and works in Nashville, it would be a mistake to classify Rose as just another country singer. Growing up in Potomac, Maryland, she started performing locally at 16 with the B Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen cover band. She left home to attend Clemson University, but she dropped out to move to Nashville and pursue her music career at the advice of industry veteran Tommy Mottola.
In a foreshadowing of things to come, she signed with Universal Records, and, in 2009, released a cover of the Kings of Leon song “Use Somebody.” In 2010, she signed with Emrose Records and released two singles and an EP under her birth name, Margaret Durante. She switched to the Maggie Rose moniker when she released the single “I Ain’t Your Mama,” which she sang at Bethesda Theater on Dec. 22. From Emrose, she moved on to RPM Records and released her first full-length album, Cut to Impress, in 2013.
Watch the official music video for “I Ain’t Your Mama” by Maggie Rose on YouTube:
Though her first album had some characterizing her work as country, Rose began a project in the summer of 2015 in which she released a song every week on her website in various different styles. Though she released the Dreams > Dollars EP in May 2017, five years passed before she released her second LP, Change the Whole Thing. Building on the country-pop of her first album, Change the Whole Thing, recorded live in the studio with no overdubs, added elements of soul, blues, and gospel to her sound. Her most recent LP, Take A Seat, came out in 2021.
I’ve previously talked about how a number of female artists who aren’t really playing country get slapped with the country label. In part, this is because contemporary mainstream country has moved so far toward pop the two are often indistinguishable. There’s no pedal steel, fiddle, or banjo — the instruments traditionally associated with country music — in Rose’s band. Her band includes guitar, bass, keys, and drums — a configuration more often found in rock and pop.
While she may not be country in the traditional sense, some of the flaws and restrictions of that genre have affected her. Several years ago, a prominent man in country radio made waves by talking openly about how country stations restricted the number of songs played by female artists, calling them the tomatoes on the salad. As she discussed on the podcast The Musician’s Brain, Maggie decided to directly confront this individual and have a conversation with him about those issues.
Rose also addresses these issues on her own podcast, Salute the Songbird, on which she interviews women in the music industry. Guests have included Amanda Shires, Amy Ray (of the Indigo Girls), Susan Tedeschi (of Tedeschi Trucks Band), Lisa Loeb, Grace Potter, and may others. If you’re a music fan, at least some of the episodes are guaranteed to be of interest to you, and they’re well worth your time.
For me, the highlight of the show Friday night was the first set, in which Rose and her band played her original songs. She opened with “Do Right By My Love,” followed by “Do It,” then “I Ain’t Your Mama.” Introducing the next song, the unreleased “Fake Flowers,” Rose shared that she has a new album coming out next year, which will also include “Under the Sun.” “Saint,” she told the audience, “is my mother’s favorite song.” “Deadweight,” she explained, is “about taking nothing with you that you don’t need.” The set continued with “Body on Fire,” “What Are We Fighting For,” and “Underestimate Me.”
Watch the official music video for “Underestimate Me” by Maggie Rose on YouTube:
“It’s You,” Maggie said, is a love song to her family. She finished the set with “Smooth.”
After a 15-minute intermission, Maggie and her band returned to the stage for a set made up of holiday tunes. The set began with two instrumental solos, “Have Yourself A Merry Christmas” on electric guitar and the “Peanuts Theme,” composed by the great Vince Guaraldi, on keys. For the next song, a cover of Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song,” Maggie took the stage and was accompanied by guitar and keys. Rose next performed a cover of Laurie Klein’s “I Love You Lord” solo. They keys and guitar were back for “Silent Night,” and it was just Maggie and the keys on “O Holy Night.” The full band was on board for Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and Ray Charles’s “The Spirit of Christmas.” The next couple of songs, “White Christmas” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” were performed as a duet. The whole band was back for “All I Need Is You (For Christmas),” and Maggie was joined by her friends and family to finish the set by singing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”
But that wasn’t the end of show. Rose come back for an encore, singing “Pull You Through” and “No One Gets Out Alive.” It was the right way to send the audience home, at least from my point of view, as I was really there for the original songs. The Christmas songs were all well done and were a lot of fun, but Rose shined the most when she performed her own material.