Mary Lyn Maiscott

Wit and More: Alicia Witt

“Our daughter is the antichrist”: This is what I remember Cybill, a middle-aged actress played by Cybill Shepherd in the eponymously titled 90s sit-com, telling her ex-husband about the rebellious teenager Zoey, portrayed with insouciance by Alicia Witt (she of the red hair and porcelain skin).

But “antichrist” did not spring to mind last night at Rockwood Hall, where my friend Terry and I watched Witt perform her original songs, accompanying herself on piano with a three-piece band as backup—drums, bass, guitar. Witt, looking sweetly hippie-ish in a long flower-print skirt and white shrug, quickly invited the audience into “the circle of trust,” where she confided that she was hoarse and her voice might falter at times. Not to worry: she sounded great as she made her way through 70s-reminiscent songs of heartbreak and hope—some from her new Ben Folds–produced album, Revisionist History. She and Folds appear to share a love of piano-driven tunes, and her background as a classical pianist was very evident during the show; at one point her hands nearly blurred (from my vantage point) as they swept over the keys for “The Other Girl”—fitting for a song with the line “I wanna take you down like a tidal wave.”

Whether or not you’ve seen “Cybill,” you may be familiar with Witt as an actress in such shows as Nashville (didn’t know! Must catch up), The Walking Dead, and Justified. The latter’s theme-song writer, T.O.N.E.-z, showed up to rap on “Down,” which he co-wrote with Witt; she sounded passionate on the song’s chorus, her voice particularly rich.

Recently, Witt told an interviewer that she liked her tough Walking Dead character’s plain appearance, adding that she avoids mirrors when working because “I don’t like being in my head about all that [looking-beautiful] crap.” (That’s good, since the next question involved her character’s having her face eaten off!)

But at Rockwood, she was lovely indeed, in a very natural way—she said she felt at home, having recorded a Kickstarter-funded live album at the club a couple of years ago. Her endearing patter included a story about fainting after being kissed on a second date; after relating it, she did a gorgeous ballad called “Down She Goes” (fainting as metaphor).

I’m not much into zombies, but I’m very into female singers, and I look forward to checking out Witt’s country-star character, Autumn Chase, on Nashville and to listening to my new copy of Revisionist History (with its intriguing title), graciously signed by the artist after the show.

Photo by Terry Bisbee.