If I may wax personal for a second, because I can’t think of anywhere else to go with this, I was quite happy last night to bring our new daughter Jia out to see Music City Roots in person. She’s 11 years old from China and the Roots family welcomed her with open arms (even though she thinks hugging is weird), and she comported herself with grace and charm. She was also very patient, because while I’m generally a music-more-than-words guy, it was impossible last night not to think about all the English flooding past her and to recognize acutely how vital songwriting is to our love of Americana music. I mean it sounds obvious because we deify Hank and Merle and Kris and Guy and Townes and many other song poets. But trying to listen through Jia’s unfamiliar ears gave me renewed appreciation for the magic of our language. Because boy we had some good writers on stage.
Just start with The Waymores, three of Music City’s finest, banded together in a vocal acoustic trio. Don Henry, Sally Barris and Tom Kimmel were elegant, fun and enthralling, delivering not just the pleasing harmonies one might expect, but wonderfully woven arrangements, with shifting leads and support that helped the fine songs jump even higher. I was particularly struck by “Singing Like A Bird” which somehow tied together the soulless state of modern radio, the wonder of nature and the Platonically perfect sound of a Rickenbacker guitar.
Of all our acts last night HuDost was farthest afield from the traditional Americana sound, but this duo (sometimes a bigger band) also writes wonderful songs, albeit with a wider world outlook. Moksha Sommer made the musical bed with a cool droning harmonium while Jamal Wade brightened things up with processed acoustic guitar. They made a velvet ambience with haunting melodies. We loved their “Country & Eastern” sound in “Waiting” and the closer “Dost” rocked out a bit and invited the audience to join in.
The Dirt Daubers lent the night an old-time feeling, as they always do. We were so glad to have J.D. and Jessica back, because their ramshackle sound is so natural and joyful. She did a wonderful job singing “Get Outta My Way” and J.D. led the charge on the standard “Just Because” and the original “The Devil Gets His Due,” complete with kazoo solo.
And then the show closed with more up-close-and-personal songcraft. Gurf Morlix interpreted four songs by his late friend Blaze Foley, the lost Austin mad genius troubadour. From the wild wordplay of “Big Cheeseburgers and Good French Fries” to the poignancy of “Cold Cold World,” it was a master class. And finally we enjoyed Scott Miller, backed by nearly all of his band the Commonwealth, as he delivered his uniquely pointed, observational songs. He’s truly got a novelist’s touch with place and character, but his stuff is always down to earth. I love “Lo Siento, Spanishburg WV” which is like a gripping documentary about a peculiar town on the precipice of existence. He finished with “Room On The Cross,” which sounds like an old standard, but nope. Miller wrote that too.
And speaking of classic songs about the ends of things, The Loveless Jam borrowed from the great John Prine. Everyone traded verses on “Paradise” about the “backwards old town” in Kentucky that was paradise before “Mr. Peabody’s coal train hauled it away.” Sigh. So many well-wrought words. So much to think about. For Jia, it was just a wash of unfamiliar sounds and strange words, but we know how much more it is than that, and she’ll understand one day.