My old pal Bill, an exceptional photographer and a dedicated student of early recorded music, attended Roots last night in part because he’d become a fan of Frank Fairfield, the solo artist who opened the show with blues and ephemera inspired by recordings from the early 1900s. I asked Bill what he’d ask Frank if he was going to interview him on stage, like I was about to. His suggestion: When you got in the time machine, what was it like? Frank does give that impression, like he’d teleported forward 75 years. But when we did interview, Frank’s attitude was like: What? This isn’t OLD music. “I play modern instruments,” he protested.
I suppose it is all relative. Compared to a 17th century hurdy-gurdy, Frank’s early 20th century guitar and banjo are modern. And such instruments ARE still made the same way and look basically the same today, so he actually has a point. And we at the show all live by the notion that great songs played well are a timeless thing, blowing up misguided value judgments implying that old = out of step. All artists are making something new out of something that’s been around. That’s what music is.
So hey, I didn’t mean to wax too philosophical, and frankly here early in the morning with the first cup of coffee it kind of hurts. So what about the music and the great good time had by all? Frank Fairfield did kick us off with jiggy fiddle, plunky rolling banjo and delicate finger-style guitar. He sang “No Hiding Place,” a tune I know as a rippling bluegrass number, in more of a dirge-like fashion. His version of “Hesitation Blues” way pre-dates the version I learned from 1960s hipster Jorma Kaukonen. If you ARE into early recordings, listening to Frank makes one constantly surprised at not hearing the roar and crackle of a shellac 78 record over the music.
And then on to the undeniably new. Dallas singer/songwriter Camille Cortinas brought her tight three piece band along and lit up the hall with buoyant, engaging twang-pop. She writes really strong melodies and has a megawatt smile and a personality to back it up. The song “Troubles” had a nice Beatles-like turn in the harmonies, and Camille’s husband Eric knocked out some elegantly clear and straightforward guitar lines that enhanced the whole package. Three songs from this Vietti emerging artist (her debut CD was released last night in OUR barn) was not enough.
That set up the fast-talking, smooth crooning Pokey LaFarge, who like Fairfield, was back for a second visit to Music City Roots. He and his band the South City Three just get slicker and groovier all the time, lending the music juuuuust the right laid-back drag so that it swings without being frantic. He offered up his hot new single on Third Man Records “Chitlin’ Cookin’ Time In Cheatham County” with aplomb. And it was super-cool to have Third Man founder and rock star certified Jack White in the barn, supporting this fast-rising hipster. They wound up with a positively jamming blues called “Move Out of Town” and encored with a whipping minor-key boogie.
And finally, the lovely and renowned Suzy Bogguss took the stage. She of the crystalline voice and many many hits. As we hoped and expected, she focused on songs from her upcoming folk songs album and her long-time classic cover of “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” which flew on the wings of her stellar band of Nashville Cats. Drummer Brian Owings and bassist Charlie Chadwick are rhythmic perfection, and Pat Bergeson took one of his signature harmonica solos. Bogguss was breezy on “Shenandoah” and bouncy and sweet on “Froggie Went A Courtin’.” And since we all wanted to hear at least one Suzy standard, she did “Someday Soon” with that amazing tone and sparkling demeanor. She also threw down along with the whole cast on the Loveless Jam rendition of “Sitting On Top of the World,” another vintage song we couldn’t live without.
Songs are and aren’t like antiques. Their age and integrity make them beautiful and grounding to have around. But unlike a great old chair, you can remake and rework and reimagine old songs ad infinitum. In that sense, indeed, they never grow old.