One of the better ideas anybody ever had for our show was to dedicate a night to bands that were born at or touched by Nashville’s venerable Belmont University. With a nationally respected music business program that’s graduated all kinds of famous people and its historic recording studios, Belmont has become a vital cog in the Music City machine. Almost exactly one year ago, we enjoyed the very hot Apache Relay, the very smart and fascinating Kopecky Family Band and others in a show that illustrated Belmont’s talent and impact.
So why not again?
Belmont talent on tap for Wednesday night, and it features an all-new lineup that as usual covers a lot of musical ground. No surprise either that we sought and got the help of our friend Dan Keen, Belmont professor and long-time ASCAP executive who’s always encouraging and helping emerging talent in the rootsy world. Because he’s more on top of these bands than I am, and because I’m brain dead from a 30-hour journey home from Australia and a bad case of jet lag, I’m going to rely heavily on an email exchange I had with Dan where I asked him to offer a skinny on our five guest artists.
Elenowen, the rocking folk duo of Josh and Nicole Johnson is having a run of success and visibility, says Dan: “The media hi-lite is their appearance on NBC’s The Voice which lasted several episodes,” he says. “This link lists some of their best (television song) placements.” And indeed these guys seem to tap the zeitgeist with a sound that’s emotional and inviting. They’ve become part of the family at Dualtone Records, home of Brett Dennen and The Lumineers. Elenowen should provide a triumphant close to the show.
Personally, because I have such affection for world music projects and grooves, I may be most excited about seeing Roots Of A Rebellion, sometimes known as ROAR. Dan wonders: “I don’t know that a reggae band has succeeded out of Nashville yet. Will they be the first?” The seven-piece sound is actually reggae-plus, with elements of rock, funk and dub in there as well. They have horns! If anybody has a shot at cutting through my Australia jet lag, it’s these guys.
Two Story Road could be “a real Music City Roots coup,” says Mr. Keen. “Jamie and Brandon Fraley (married) came out of Belmont with “can’t miss” tags on. Brandon was a big part of Gretchen Wilson’s ignition, liftoff! era. Jamie’s been Carrie Underwood’s main background vocalist for five years. So they know the ropes. Mark Bright is their producer, and they have Carrie’s blessing. They have can’t miss talent. MCR is kind of a ‘hey, world, here we are!’ performance for them.”
Also coming from a country music kind of orientation is Josh Mirenda. Dan says: “He tried to be “normal.” He’s in his senior year at Belmont studying Pre-dentistry or something like that. But he couldn’t fake it any longer. He’s NOT normal. He’s an artist, and he’s gotta bust out. So he re-committed to his music career and is getting lots of attention from big shots. He writes really well and sings like a pro.”
And from more down-home territory, we’ll hear from the Vickie Vaughn Band. Take it away Keen: “They came out of Belmont’s bluegrass ensemble program. Vickie has a great voice! Very distinctive and “star-like.” Key band players include Casey Campbell on mandolin and Maggie Estes on fiddle. Casey’s family has lots of history in bluegrass. Maggie is engaged to the guitar player on the band.”
Thanks Dan, for making my job easier and for whetting my appetite for this week’s show. Follow Dan on Twitter @DenverDanKeen by the way. I’ve heard about many great young bands from him first, so he’s one of Nashville’s best unsigned A&R men. And as for Belmont, have a very happy homecoming week this week. How better to supplement the college hoops and reunion parties than by coming out to the barn or turning on the radio? Doors at 6. Show at 7. And there will be no final exam.