I’m always amazed by the power of great live music to ease life’s burdens, and every week I leave Music City Roots feeling better deep down than when I’d arrived. But I appreciated the good vibes and the love and camaraderie of our Roots family yesterday more than ever. You see yesterday morning, I had to euthanize my beautiful Border Collie Jessie after more than 15 wonderful years together. She was a light in my life and I’ll miss her terribly. And on top of that we were as a community mourning the loss of Grand Ole Opry star and Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Louvin, who was supposed to play Roots on Feb. 9. The cares of the world just seemed heavy on the heart. Then the music started.
We had a Mutt-and-Jeff team of Jim Lauderdale and Peter Cooper co-hosting the show, after Jim’s flight out of Nashville was cancelled and he raced out to do a show he’d already been absolved from doing. Jim and Peter cut up and had fun, but only after they hit a really nice duet of the Louvin Brother’s classic “You’re Running Wild.” Watching Peter hit some of those ultra-high Louvinesque harmony notes, I remembered what a difficult song it is to do. Fine job.
Our motley lineup of artistry began with the solo acoustic stylings of Catie Curtis, truly one of the big names to ever come out of the modern Boston folk/songwriter scene. She’s not your broody song poet. Rather, she radiates kindness and she kicked things off with humor. Her song “Stretch Limousine” was a tale of Hollywood schadenfreude (because you see the limo is on fire by the side of the road – inspired by real life). And she gave us “Kiss That Counted,” one of her tried and true hits, along with a few others that showcased her conversational tone and beguiling voice.
I think we were all wowed by the too-short set from Rayland Baxter, a buzzed-about fellow who grew up around the Nashville music scene – the son of well-known steel player Bucky Baxter – but who is relatively new to today’s indie Music City deal. He was flat out amazing, with bold melodies and expert use of his five piece band. “Mountain Song” had a striding swell and the ideal mix of acoustic guitar tone, bold rhythm and electric guitar crunchies. “The Woman For Me” was dreamy and searching. “Bad Things” rocked harder, but maintained the strong dynamic sense. More of this guy please.
The Cleverlys, up next, are wise cracking their way into the hearts of roots music fans with a satiric family band act that still features tight musicianship and singing. We know you’ve been looking for a deep holler hillbilly act that can cover the Black Eyed Peas and Beyonce, and here you’ve found them. The crowd loved the set and the loopy interview that followed.
Then, what a cool pairing to end the night. Somebody needs to book the Black Lillies and Donna The Buffalo on a double bill tour, because the textures and feeling is complimentary and contrasty in the right ways. The Lillies, our friends from Knoxville, are all about the song, whether it’s deep country, grassy, folkie or spare. The harmony vocals of Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady merge like butter and flour into a silky roux. The rhythm section and Billy Contreras’s fiddle give it motion and flavor without weighing things down. Then Donna The Buffalo – they have great songwriting too, but they are largely about groove – a tasty zydeco-inspired pulse that has kept their fans dancing for twenty years. We saw quite a few dancers get up last night, and DTB songs like the classic “Family Picture” had everyone boogieing, whether on their feets or in their seats.
The cast wrapped with one more nod to the Louvin Brothers – a happy rendition of “Cash On The Barrelhead.” We’ll miss you Charlie and Jessie. Thanks for the memories.