Well that was interesting. Fifteen minutes before show time the rain squalled, the lightning thundered and the power went out in the Loveless barn. And not one of those quickie off-and-on power outages. We waited a moment or two, and then some more pausing, and then I began to wonder what might come to pass as, oh, 35 seconds went by. And then click, zzzhhhh, everything came back on — to stay. Nevertheless, I could just feel the agony taking place in the EM-50 production truck, where computers and webcasting machinery was jolted to backup power, and the guys know nothing would be quite optimal the rest of the night. But at least, it seemed we would go on, in all our old-time radio, electricity-dependent glory.
The storms outside were pretty rough and swept in at the most inopportune time for our guests and for Jim Lauderdale, who truly cut it close in traffic. He sound checked for thirty seconds in a changed shirt and drenched hair as the countdown sounded. Our crowd clearly lost some folks who would have been heading over just as the rain came, but those who arrived were sheltered and spirited. We appreciate everyone who made it. Jim knocked us out with a song fresh from the writing room with Buddy Miller, thank you very much. And our show – dedicated to artists playing next week’s Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion – was off and running.
Folk Soul Revival pretty much packs its mission statement into its name, and while other bands of the night would sound more like classic soul artists, this Bristol-area quintet made a soulful brand of folk that jolted the evening to life. “D’Railed” was a chugging train song enhanced by a Deford Bailey-esque harmonica part. They hit us with some barroom swing and some country blues too before closing with a song about, their words, makin’ love in a trailer park. There goes Music City Roots bein’ all high-brow again.
Now there are those in Nashville who wish to believe in a rivalry with Austin, but folks, we love roots from all music cities, so when another striking, strong, focused band comes from the Texas capital, we’re quick to jump on board. Wednesday night’s case study was Uncle Lucius, a quintet pared down to a quartet that did not suffer apparently for power or soul. They opened seductively, at a slow and easy tempo on “Keep The Wolves Away.” But that calm let Mike Carpenter’s electric riff opening of “Somewhere Else” really sparkle. The songs developed and carried us on a journey, with a touch of psychedelic ambience and superb singing and instrumental work. They cut their new album largely in Nashville and are working with Nashville business folk, so let’s cheer on another collaboration with our sister city.
If soul is your bag, with a side of cotton-field country, you’ll want to know about Sam Lewis. He brings a drama-free solidity and a pure voice to the stage, along with a crack band. His stately grooves and smooth delivery segued well out of Uncle Lucius. Kenny Vaughan joined him to add his signature slinky, punchy attack on guitar. The song “Virginia Avenue” took a nice acoustic and folky turn, while it painted pictures of small town life and his grandmother’s old block.
It’s rare we close with a solo artist, but if Chris Thomas King can fill the recent pages of blues history books, he can fill our stage by himself. And he did, with a voice that’s both wise and vulnerable. His vocal sort of floats on updrafts from his droning acoustic guitar. He called an audible upon reaching the stage, moving his best-known song, “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” to the top of his set. This is the Skip James classic he recorded outdoors in scene for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Chris’s story about that experience in our interview was spellbinding. King sang a great spooky song about how the local voodoo woman whose last two husbands had wound up mysteriously dead in the mud is taking a liking to him. Then he pulled another surprise and launched into “Down To The River To Pray,” a song that I fell for in the spare voice of Doc Watson and which was performed so artfully in O Brother by Alison Krauss. Not only was King’s version pure and impassioned, he wrapped it just before a peal of thunder shook the barn.
I didn’t overhear any talk backstage about the Loveless Jam on Wednesday so when Jim and company came out and launched into Bob Dylan’s “Down On The Flood,” it was a smile-inducing surprise. “If you go down in the flood it’s gonna be your fault,” sang these worldly wise artists over a very cool slinky beat that would have inspired Levon Helm.
There was a lot of home news to catch up on last night too. The good folks at French’s Shoes and Boots returned to the show as sponsors and that means their fantastic display of artistic footwear was back as well. We wished best wishes of all kinds to Keith Bilbrey and wife Emy Joe. They just celebrated their seventh anniversary and yet her heart is, temporarily, being shared with a cardiologist. Our prayers are with you Emy Joe. Also, we officially launched our streaming music channel Roots Radio (www.rootsradio.com) which plays performances from our show around the clock. Wow. It’s on the web AND available now as an iPhone or Android app. It’s a perfect storm of great music.
See you at the Americana Music Assn. Conference and Festival next week and then back at the barn on Sept. 19.