A couple wanders in to Portland’s White Horse Grill & Bar on a late fall evening as Jennifer Lynn’s alto soars into “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” The two look at the packed house, look at each other, and reel into country swing in progress just inside the door.
Despite the lack of a dance floor, Lynn and her band’s barreling-out-of-the-chute style soon have four women line-dancing to the Bill Monroe tune. The crimson and gray baseball caps of onlookers nod smartly in time. Lynn flashes her husband-rhythm guitarist Tim Cowan-her Missouri-wide smile and sings on with an air of pure enjoyment.
Jennifer Lynn Bryant ’03, for folks who know her from her days as a music and humanities major at Washington State University, has been performing with her own band for more than a year. Cowan is a 2000 WSU architecture graduate, and his brother, bass guitarist Harley Cowan, earned his architecture degree from WSU in 1996.
Lynn and her band are playing the White Horse to show appreciation for alumni traveling to the WSU-Oregon State University football game. And before they finish their first set on this rainy Friday night, they rally the crowd with a Cougar-fight-song sing-along.
That’s as far as they stray from a play list that runs from Loretta Lynn to Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline to Bunko Kelly. Lynn’s considerable range and talent give them all more than their due. But her voice delivers its finest, romancing her own compositions and the works of Hank Williams.
Lynn-no relation to Loretta Lynn-grew up in Port Angeles, where her parents run an upholstery shop. Her father, Aerlyn, was front man and singer in a “straight-ahead rock n’ roll band” called “The Rebounds” in the ’50s and ’60s, she says. Its members even wore matching satin vests.
“He always sang to me,” says Lynn, who was unaware of her father’s musical career for years. “I felt like I had my own Elvis. I must have picked it up from him.”
She still reveres her father’s talent. After her mother, Carlene, found a demo recording of “Danny Boy” her father cut in 1960, Lynn had it copied to CD and surprised him by playing it for the father-daughter dance at her wedding.
Lynn’s childhood slumber parties, meanwhile, were all about karaoke and dancing with her girlfriends. She sang tunes from the Everly Brothers, Madonna, Elvis, and John Fogarty around the house, took up violin in the third grade, and started singing in choirs in junior high. By the time she finished at WSU, she had toured internationally with the University’s Madrigal Choir and Concert Choir, and sang in the Jazz Choir, WSU opera workshops, and Summer Palace theater productions.
“I’ve never been able to just stick to one genre of music, because there are elements in each that I crave,” Lynn says.
She and Cowan moved to Portland, where she did “the musical theatre gig”-but found it too time consuming, especially with her day job at a large insurance company. The couple started sitting in with other bands and then formed their own group. They have a new CD-Leavin’-and Lynn has four or five songs written for the next one.
Why country? “I finally realized, and not that long ago, that if I wanted to be successful in music, I would have to focus my energies on the one that brought me the most satisfaction,” Lynn says. “And there’s nothing like performing one of your own compositions and having people cheer for it.”
Lynn still doesn’t take herself too seriously, wryly noting that the majority of the songs on her new CD are about leaving either bad relationships or hometowns.
“When you are a song writer starting out, love gone bad is easier to write about,” she says. “I poke fun at it in a lot of songs.”
Indeed, her new disc includes what she calls her “kiss-off song” titled “Pucker Up.”
Lynn waltzes from full-throttle honky-tonk to classic country rock and tunes of sour love during the White Horse performance. Her band is polished and tight. The only drawback: Her entourage sometimes has more musical power than the brick barroom has acoustics.
And there’s a bit of confusion. This may be a country band, but only the drummer has cowboy gear-a black, western-cut shirt and a beat up straw hat.
Can we expect matching satin shirts, perhaps homage to the satin vests worn by the members of her father’s band?
“I’ve been know to don a satin top or two,” Lynn says. “But as far as the rest of the band? You’ve seen the size of them. I’d like to see someone try to wrangle them into something shiny.”