“You have to hit all the bases,” said bandleader and broadcaster Joe Mullins from the stage on Wednesday night. He was talking about a bluegrass show, where you’d better sing about momma, murder, trains and God before the night’s over. But he might also have been describing a good Roots show, where we try to touch as many bases as we can on the Americana infield. Our Nashville Scene friend Jewly noted our wide range of artistic points of view for this week, and one dude watching the final set of the night by The Allen Thompson Band leaned over to me and said over the volume: “ECLECTIC SHOW!” Yah bro. That’s how we roll.
But as much as I expected Wednesday to be an episode of “And Now For Something Completely Different,” I was surprised by the cohesiveness of Thompson’s band, hot young songwriter Andrew Combs and emerging artist Andrew Leahey. All of them relied on the rudiments of soulful rock and roll as you would have found them on stages in 1972: electric guitars, luxurious vocal harmonies, love of country (music) and ribbons of psychedelia. In that final set, a lovely East Nashville lass shook various instruments of rhythmic temptation and sang in sweet harmony with Allen T. That kind of thing. Do I remember 1972? Sure, fondly. I was 8 years old, and my musical trip hadn’t begun, but my imagination was at least as hallucinatory as anything The Beatles were experiencing via their more adult modes of mental transport. And at our show on Wednesday, I certainly had a heady time, under the influence of nothing except a big does of Spring pollen and a Blackstone beer.
Joe Mullins is a classic character who could slip through a time machine to about 1961 and move around comfortably. And he’d be among the coolest cats there in his Ohio home, fronting a bluegrass band and owning AM radio stations. Which is what he does now. And that voice! Whether speaking or singing, it’s arresting and comforting at the same time. He must have studied at the school of Bilbrey. The band was awesome, with speed or tenderness where called for, in the vein of Doyle Lawson and J.D. Crowe. Their take on a Grandpa Jones song called “Fallen Leaves” was just vocally stunning. We feature and enjoy a lot of the searching, edgy bluegrass. This is the true sound of bluegrass renown. A brilliant band.
Andrew Leahey peers out from under a mop of 1972-worthy hair, and his five piece band kills it. In about a minute they had me thinking about Neil Young and Tom Petty with major melodies and satisfying, striding guitar riffs. Spencer Cullum’s pedal steel kept it lonesome. “Stable Hand” was a lovely slow blues about a faithful partner, not somebody who works with horses. Up next was the tasty duo Sweethearts of the Rodeo offering fresh new music from this winter’s release Restless. They opened with “Get Rhythm,” one of the best songs ever, and boy did they have rhythm, with Dave Roe on bass, Rick Lonow on drums and Danny Flowers on guitar. The sisters mixed new with favorites and I especially loved “Gone to Kentucky,” with its yearning blue chugging feel.
Andrew Combs came of age idolizing Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and their ilk, but any idea that he’s a solemn troubadour needs to go out the window. The five-piece jammed in fourth gear for most of the set of grand Americana country rock. Combs does indeed write fantastic songs that catch the mind, heart and ear. The title track from Worried Man rocked the barn, while Andrew’s raspy and sincere voice commanded the music with calm authority. It all wound up in a standing ovation. This guy has huge potential.
And that set things up for a show closing set from Allen Thompson and friends. A bunch of dancers gathered up front and showed their grasp of the groove coming off the stage and the six musicians gathered thereon. Allen’s songs are easy-fitting like “Last Goodbye” and “Virginia,” but the striking thing about the ATB is the mood. Spirits lift, and hips shake. The songs extend on wings of clean melodic guitar ideas that develop and conjure. Vocal harmonies stack three and four deep with choral fullness. Syncopated rhythms jiggle and rub against one another like horny teenagers. And whatever innocence we still had left in 1972 is reawakened. I hope very much to catch a full show by these guys this spring or summer in an outdoor setting where all those vibes could swirl even more freely.
The night closed out with a big old Loveless Jam on “Six Days On The Road,” and it’ll be six more days until we see you again next week. Who knows what year we’ll remind you of then.