She may be re-branding herself as a soul singer, but for Monday night’s Top Five semi-finals on The Voice, Nashville’s Meghan Linsey dug deep into her country catalog for a show-stopping rendition of “Tennessee Whiskey,” a song originally recorded by David Allan Coe in 1981, then catapulted into a country classic two years later by George Jones.
But it was Chris Stapleton’s bluesy re-make of the tune from his just-released debut solo album that provided the arrangement for Linsey’s cover of his cover. The result was deliciously retro, evoking images of Etta James in a smoky club somewhere in the South — a reminder that there’s a rich space to inhabit where country collides with R&B.
After her performance — which the Louisiana native dedicated to Nashville, her hometown for the past 11 years — coach Blake Shelton gushed, “I can’t even contain myself right now because I know what just happened. That was so special. You engaged all the country music fans out there across the country, and you’ve already engaged all the new fans that you’ve made through your journey on the show.”
He then made reference to the strategic value of returning to her country roots —something she toyed with a few weeks back with a searing rendition of Little Big Town’s current smash, “Girl Crush.”
“That is, by far, your most important performance on this show so far,” Shelton exclaimed Monday night. “I can’t wait to see what happens on iTunes!”
By the morning, Linsey’s rendition of “Tennessee Whiskey” had climbed to the Top Ten on the iTunes chart — the Holy Grail for contestants on The Voice. Once a song hits the iTunes Top 10, downloads not only count as votes, but are multiplied by 10 (her second song, Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One,” checked in at Number 21). Two songs by her biggest competitor, Team Pharrell’s Sawyer Fredericks, also cracked the Top 10: a modern twist on Buffalo Springfield’s protest song from the Sixties, “For What it’s Worth,” and a heartfelt take on Christina Perri’s pop ballad, “A Thousand Years.”
The latter – which closed the show – prompted Shelton to admit to the 16-year-old talent, “Listen man, you’re clearly the frontrunner, and there’s no question in anybody’s mind.”
The episode featured hometown visits for each of the five semi-finalists, and two performances from each contestant: The first, a song chosen by their coach; the second, a tune chosen by each artist as an ode to the place they call home.
Linsey’s visit to Music City included a surprise drop-in from longtime supporter Naomi Judd, who predicted, “I just know this girl is going to win The Voice.” Later, during a pop-up show at downtown Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon, Big & Rich joined the former Steel Magnolia singer for a cover of the 1975 rock ballad, “Love Hurts.” “We met over 10 years ago on this stage,” recalled B&R’s Big Kenny.
In April, Linsey told Rolling Stone Country she had no plans to abandon Nashville after The Voice. “It’s my favorite city in America,” she said. “I feel like there’s a real community there, and I’ve built my team and my family in Nashville. There’s all kinds of music coming out of Nashville now, and everybody’s trying to move to Nashville. I’m happy there.”
On tonight’s results show, one contestant faces elimination, and The Voice will reveal its four finalists.
Monday night’s Voice Top Five finalists’ performances:
Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”
The Band, “When I Paint My Masterpiece”
“Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep” (pre-Civil War spiritual)
Sam Smith, “I’m Not the Only One” by Sam Smith
George Jones/Chris Stapleton, “Tennessee Whiskey”
Sara Bareilles, “Gravity”
Michael Jackson, “Earth Song”
Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth”
Christina Perri, “A Thousand Years”