From the East come musicians bearing gifts. That’s a pretty good basis for a season-closing, week-before-Christmas show, as we found out last year. That’s when we featured an ensemble cast from An East Nashville Christmas, which is still out there and still raising money for the homeless. This year, we’ve fallen in with another bunch of dynamos and cool kids who are crossing the river and making a pilgrimage to the Edge of Music City.
This week’s ensemble cast with house-band show is a co-production with Electric Western, the paradoxically named East Nashville record label and musical event company founded by artists and scene-makers Reno Bo and Jacob Jones. Jones is a familiar cat to our tribe; he’s led his large, twist-inducing band on both MCR and Scenic City Roots. And he told me this week about the story of the fast-growing, stylishly entrepreneurial Electric Western thing.
“We’re trying to tell a story and foster a whole culture,” Jones said. “Our thing is mostly throwback rock and roll and country, and we’ve ben able to work with some great artists.” It began in New York, where Jones and Bo lived in the late 2000s. They moved to Nashville soon after where they found a more open field for creative scene-making. They wrapped the Electric Western brand around two main directions. One is the label, with terrific new recordings by Derek Hoke, Los Colognes, Steelism and Andrew Combs, all of whom are prominent at this week’s Roots. The other side of the business, and according to Jones the fastest-growing, is its famous Keep On Movin’! Rock N Soul Dance Parties, held at the 5 Spot and more recently The Cannery Ballroom. These sweaty, atmospheric and high-style DJ parties have the air of an authentic sock hop, updated for the new Nashville.
So when Roots and Electric Western conspired to create a special twangin’ holiday event, Jones and Bo were able to assemble a very cool Yule lineup. Steelism will follow Jim Lauderdale’s opening song and then hang out most of the night as the house band. This fascinating project features Jeremy Fetzer and Spencer Cullum, Jr., respectively an Ohio-born electric guitarist and a British-born pedal steel player. With sometimes multiple drummers, they fire up a swirling, psychedelic mélange of surf rock and James Bond soundtracks, of Duane Eddy and Booker T. & The MGs. They’re drawing huge crowds with instrumental only music, which makes this jazz-loving correspondent very happy.
Steelism will offer a holiday tune and then welcome Derek Hoke to the microphone, and he’s certainly a favorite of ours. He’s a low-key honky tonk hero with a rich, warming voice, excellent songwriting chops and a timeless sense of swing. Next on the all-star roster is Escondido, the buzz-worthy duo of Jessica Maros and Tyler James. She was a Canadian solo artist/jewelry maker. He was a regular with Ten out of Tenn and a Magnetic Zero band member for Edward Sharpe. In one of those Nashville serendipities, the two met on a recording session for a mutual friend. Before long they’d discovered a shared love of spaghetti western music and lush pop, which led to their luxurious The Ghost of Escondido debut. Suddenly there was rapturous coverage in and appearances on Rolling Stone, MTV, Conan etc. So they’re hot in many ways.
Next up will be MCR alum Andrew Combs, who must be thankful for his 2013. He toured Europe with Caitlin Rose, played Newport Folk Festival and South By Southwest and recorded a split single with Steelism. On our special show, he’ll play in front of Steelism with his tough and tender realism. We’re kind of curious what Christmas tune he’ll pick.
In the third set of the night we’ll hear from Electric Western recording artists Los Colognes. Their Working Together LP (and title single) is one of my favorite local releases of the year, with a gentle attack and elevated mood that can be enjoyed on repeat play. Guitarist and front guy Jay Rutherford and vocal partner/drummer Aaron Mortenson are really building something strong here. They must be working together. And like Escondido, their sound has shimmering evocations of Western deserts, but it’s so sweet you could spell it with two Ss. Also up in this set, Ricky Young and Joel King of hot travelin’ band The Wild Feathers. They’re Texas and Oklahoma boys respectively who merged musical visions a couple years ago into a true organic rock and roll band with bold tunes and fine harmonies.
To close out the night we have a special guest who, for various lawyerly music biz reasons we can’t disclose publicly at this time. But it’s got us pretty jazzed over here, and it speaks to how big and esteemed a community Electric Western is reaching. Thanks again to those guys for the collaboration and the sweet graphic design (another EW specialty). We couldn’t ask for a cooler scene to set for our last show of 2013.