For Nashville-based artist Heidi Burson, there’s just nothing quite like singing the classics.
Raised on gospel and classic soul music, Burson is an independent rising star in a musical trend over the past decade to revive and honor old soul sounds alongside popular contemporary artists like Leon Bridges, Ray LaMontagne, Joss Stone, Eli Paperboy Reed and Black Joe Lewis. She idolizes Aretha Franklin, and is possessed with a voice eerily similar to that of Adele, seamlessly blending soul, jazz, rock and R&B with an ever-present strong nod to the iconic sounds of Motown and Stax Records.
Currently on a nationwide tour in support of her second album, Burson will perform at the Ross Ragland Theater on Saturday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Originally from a small town in Ohio, Burson moved to Nashville in the early 2000s to pursue music at Belmont University, and soon was fully immersed in the vibrant multi-cultural and genre-melding Nashville music scene. In 2012 she released her debut album, “Every Shade of Blue,” and in 2017 released “The Story,” showcasing her penchant for both soft, sensual soul and funky upbeat party jams.
West Coast first
Burson has gained wide acclaim, garnering airplay and devoted audiences as far away as England and Germany. Her current tour marks the first time she has traveled through the West Coast as a headlining act.
“In 2015, I was part of a tour that bound together a bunch of artists supporting each other, it was the first time I had ever been west of Texas,” laughed Burson. “For this tour I am really looking forward to seeing the Rocky Mountains, Yosemite; I want to take a picture by a Redwood — not just drive by one. I think the biggest thing is the culture, people on the West Coast just seem so much more laid back and easy to talk to, I look forward to that.”
Burson’s tour takes her through Washington, Oregon and California, intentionally hitting several off-the-beaten path locales – a conscious effort for Burson to reach audiences that match the small town experience she grew up with and still cherishes.
“I find audiences are more receptive in those places, I think because they’re somewhat hidden, some artists may never make a point to come play there, and that pains me because everyone deserves to have access to the arts and good music,” said Burson. “I love opportunities for shows like this one in Klamath Falls, because generally people are more excited to come and participate. I had the same thing in our little town, we had a community concert association that would bring touring acts to my middle school stage, and my parents would take me to every show – it really enriched my life as an artist.”
While her touring band may take a somewhat more minimalist approach than the full big brass section and backup singers common for Burson’s sets in Nashville, as a keyboardist Burson fills out her sound with music that is at times jubilant, other times heartfelt, and often filled with crowd participation and a sense of fun and appreciation for soul sounds that cross generational divides.
“I think that the resurgence in soul music goes back to people craving that raw sound, who want to hear real music,” said Burson. “I think that when they discover a new artist, whether mainstream or someone more underground like myself, there’s something about it that they’ve been missing because of what they’ve been force-fed for so long. I think artists are feeling more inclined to be authentic and write what they want, and there is a lot of soulfulness that goes into being yourself. Too many electronic tricks don’t feel real to me, but there is a real emotion when I listen to classic singers like Gladys Knight, Marvin Gaye, and Aretha Franklin.”
“It is heart on your sleeve, no-holds-barred authenticity,” added Burson. “People just want the facts, and with soul it’s all about ‘I’m going to tell you what I know from my life experiences.’”
While her career is still growing, Burson has gained a following among musicians and fans in the Nashville scene and beyond. If granted the opportunity, she someday would love to collaborate on a gospel album alongside Kirk Franklin, or write songs with Colin Hay and Brandi Carlile.
Burson describes her sound by imagining that Aretha Franklin, Jill Scott and Ray Charles all had a baby. She often draws vocal comparisons to Adele and Whitney Houston, which she fully admits that if comparisons must be drawn to other artists those are not bad company to keep. Mostly though, Burson simply asks audiences to give it a chance, to come with an open ear ready to enjoy a heartfelt personal experience.
“I like to think I am recreating a classic sound through the inspiration I’ve received from classic artists, and funneled that into my own music,” said Burson. “It is music to make you feel – if you can tear yourself away from Netflix for an hour or two, come be part of a community event to support the arts, support independent artistry, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.”
“If you like Aretha Franklin you’re going to enjoy the show, and who doesn’t?” Burson rhetorically asked. “Honestly, I’m not sure I trust anyone who doesn’t like, or at least know, Aretha Franklin.”
Tickets to the Heidi Burson concert at the Ross Ragland Theater on Saturday are $15, $19, or $24 before transaction fees – available through the Ross Ragland box office during regular business hours or online at www.rrtheater.org. The Ross Ragland Theater is at 218 N. Seventh St.
Listen to songs from Burson’s albums at www.heidiburson.com/merchandise.