Show Reviews

Show Review: Mina Roth, Mason Justice, Taylor Borton, & Luke Vijay


Mina Roth, Mason Justice, Taylor Borton, & Luke Vijay

Tuesday May 31, 2022

@ 404 Bar & Grill in Nashville, TN

(Review by: Jeffrey Kurtis)

When I first moved to Nashville 13 ½ years ago, I looked for the best pockets to find artists playing original music. Like so many newcomers to town, though, I spent too much time underneath the neon lights of Broadway listening to 4 hours of worn-out cover songs with only a few scattered originals sliding into the marathon sets that those artists play day in and day out while they’re pounding the pavement.

It wasn’t until a few chance invites from friends to places like Edgehill Studios Cafe, Hotel Indigo, and the Commodore Grille that I’d first experience songwriter rounds and find writers/artists providing a receptive audience with a whole slew of original material.

These days, we mostly find ourselves at hotspots like The Listening Room and being very selective when it comes to choosing which songwriter round’s we’ll be a part of covering. However, every so often an opportunity will come up that allows us to go back to places where songwriters are still cutting their teeth; and occasionally a few of them will absolutely strike the right chord with us.

Holed up inside the 404 Bar and Grill on the south side of downtown Nashville, Ted Sidelinger and Alisa Johnson have been hosting a songwriter round for writers, both new and old, to always have a stage to play and hone their craft. While each act, including (amongst others) Doug Tolston, Peter Kent, Olivia Steele, Joe Hynek, and Brandon Scott, all brought their individual flare to the stage and ran the gamut of styles, a few acts were decisively modern and immediately grabbed our attention.

Early in the night, Luke Vijay, a songwriter who found his way to Nashville via Connecticut, showcased the path he’s carving out in town amongst the crowded writing scene on the back of great songs, memorable lyrics, and a modern edged country sound that universally makes each of his songs perfect for pitch placement should Luke be going that route with his career trajectory.

With cleverly written comparison lyrics that included lines about how their love is sparking and how they light up the room, Vijay juxtaposed between a steamy love scene and the functions of a cigarette lighter on his opening song “Lighter's.”

Continuing a display of solid lyrics, Vijay then delivered “Good Morning Conversation's,” a song which contains a brooding style that builds perfectly through the verses so that by the time the chorus hits, you’re sitting right on the edge of your seat waiting for it to pounce as he then pulls you through the topsy turvy emotions of an up and down relationship and slaps home the incredible hook, “what I feel when I’m beside you makes up for the times I hate you.”

After singing of a weekend fling that stole his heart for a fleeting moment on “Missing You,” Vijay then closed out with his 2018 single “Everything I’ve Been Missing,” an ultra-catchy song that was originally put out as a duet with Katie Ray, that continued to allow him to display his solid songwriting style with lyrics that took you through emotions of falling in love and more so seeing all the simple things that you didn’t even know you were missing that now having them in your life has shown you; their love after a long day, someone to ask if you’re okay, etc.

FULL SET LIST (Luke Vijay)

1) Lighter's

2) Good Morning Conversation's

3) Missing You

4) Everything I’ve Been Missing

As with any songwriter round, there are always several flavors that will take the stage and strike differently with the members of the audience depending on their specific tastes. But then there are writers/artists who can hit right with everyone in the entire place, quiet down the table conversations, and get everyone’s attention to the point that the whole room goes silent as they lean in for a closer listen and turn a crowded bar into a true listening room.

That’s exactly what Taylor Borton was able to accomplish!

The Youngstown, Ohio native who calls Nashville home mostly plays guitar without a pick, which immediately gives her stage presence a unique look that easily catches the eyes of an audience in a guitar town where that certainly isn’t the normal style of playing.

Borton instantly delivered a singer/songwriter vibe that pulled in feels of Texas country style to allow her solid, pitch perfect vocals to stand in the spotlight as she weaved us through incredibly well-written stories chalk full of emotions on “When the Shine’s All Gone” and “I Knew You First.”

Having now already revealed her country tilt, Borton than switched gears to uncover another layer and give the audience a firm glance into who she is as an all-around songwriter/artist when she slid over to her folk influenced background, adding harmonica to the instrumentation while entrancing the crowd with “Lyrics in My Head.”

With the crowd already completely invested into her set, Borton then delivered the very impactful “My Opry” to close out her portion of the round, a song which leans on sheer honesty and transparent emotion that hits on all the different trials and tribulations experienced while trying to navigate through the Nashville music scene, but she then masterfully uses the chorus to encourage writers and artists (including herself) to treat every stage and every moment just as if you’re standing in the middle of that life-changing circle that sits center stage on the hallowed wood of the Grand Ole Opry.

FULL SET LIST (Taylor Borton)

1) When The Shine’s All Gone

2) I Knew You First

3) Lyrics in My Head

4) My Opry

Mason Justice – the vocal duo comprised of Brittany Mason and Opal Justice -  gave the crowd a rowdy performance during their half hour slot that absolutely caught the attention of everyone on hand.

With their album Blood Runs Cold, released earlier this year and featuring the single “When Hell Meets High Water,” the duo introduced their signatures to the listener; darker tones, songs influenced by an abusive relationship that encouraged moving on while also carrying a spiteful resentment to add depth to the lyrics, a guitar onslaught that balanced between swampy country and edgy rock, and vocals that allowed Opal and Brittany to each stand out as unique, but to also come together in harmony to deliver the power of each song.

All these attributes that we first heard flowing through our speakers, sprang to life the moment that they took the stage and injected their set with high-impact energy that breathed new life into their songs as they kicked things off with an impactful spoken word intro that led into “Heart of Stone,” that was quickly followed by “Villain,” which Mason dedicated to any of the narcissists in the crowd before playing.

“We’d like to tell you the whole story on this one, but that would make you accessories,” Opal mused with a mischievous tone to her voice as she and Brittany then boot stomped out the rhythm to “Inmate 921” which ended when Brittany tilted her guitar towards the crowd in an imitation of a gun to match the lyrics as she blasted out a “Boom” from her deeper register to end the song with a jump scare moment.

As Opal transparently invited the audience into her own personal story of getting out of an abusive relationship, she also encouraged that walking away from a relationship like that can be done, as the duo twisted into their most current single “When Hell Meets High Water.”

After sharing exciting news that they’d be heading into the studio soon to record “Change the World,” they quickly had the audience participating with them as they led a clap along and a sing along, before rounding out their set with “Rise” and the swampy grit of “I Reign,” both which stayed tilted on their overall theme of pulling yourself out of a bad place.

While Brittany Mason and Opal Justice each bring something vastly different to the stage, with Brittany being the more reserved musician type with a softer vocal and Opal being the entertaining front person with more of in your face, angsty approach, they’ve found the right ways to bring their two different styles together to create something that plays perfectly off one another so that it elevates their songs with all the right traces of raw honesty while smashing into an electric performance that leans into their mud stomping side to deliver the lyrical punches.

FULL SET LIST (Mason Justice)

1) Heart of Stone

2) Villain

3) Inmate 921

4) When Hell Meets High Water

5) Change The World

6) Rise

7) I Reign 

Mina Roth, who’s only made her way to Music City within the past year, has emerged as one of those up-and coming songwriter’s who absolutely has our attention and she put on a firm display as to why when she took the stage at the 404 Bar and Grill during the 9:30 time slot.

Pulling influence from pop and alternative kissed rock, while dabbling just enough into modern country twists, Roth aptly delivers a refreshingly honest singer/songwriter sound that brings the listener lyrics that come straight from her own real-life experiences, and while you can try and place a comparison of her style to other artists, the fact that you can’t quite place it is the very thing that makes her sound uniquely her own as her natural talent shines in the spotlight.

With just the right amount of swagger, sass, and confidence, Roth opened the door and invited the audience into her personal life as she began her set with what she introduced as one of her more upbeat songs, “Shortstick Kids,” and immediately showcased her maturity level as a writer and performer as she knowingly allowed her vocals to build softy through the verses so that when she hit the extremely catchy chorus it punched just right as she lifted her voice and pulled you directly into the emotional bend of the lyric.

While she kicked things off on the upbeat side, she then used the middle portion of her set to focus on her vibey, singer/songwriter styled songs that allowed her to expertly wear her raw emotions on her sleeve through the softer tempos.

During “Blonde Ballerina,” Roth closed her eyes and showed the pain she felt in her facial expressions as she very openly sang of the tough feelings of not measuring up in another’s eyes; a topic that she would also explore two songs later on the very poetically written “Dust,” which she introduced as being about how her friend at the time traded her in like their friendship meant nothing when he got a girlfriend.

“This next song is about my best friend who I acquired back in September. I met her at Belmont, and she was going through a really tough time and this was kind of my way of saying to her that everything was going to be alright,” Roth explained as she introduced one of her newer songs “Bluebird,” during which she allowed the crowd to soak in her incredible vocal range as she hit high notes toward the end of the song and allowed her voice to permeate the entire room while captivating attention.

Bookending her set, she closed in a similar way to how she opened, by delivering another catchy, upbeat song “I Like You Better When I’m Drunk,” an earworm which left the crowd humming its melody and singing the memorable hook long after its final notes were played.


1) Shortstick Kids

2) Blonde Ballerina

3) Bluebird

4) Dust

5) I Like You Better When I’m Drunk


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