We on the team are frequently reminding each other of particular favorite performances from our five years of attempted alternative reality roots music broadcasting. And a precious few just keep coming back like super top hits that prove more undeniable and valuable with the passage of time. Near the very top is Julie Lee’s 2012 rendition of her song “Beautiful Night,” a swaying, exquisite mood setter that presents Julie’s crystalline voice on a pillow of white. It was part of that year’s East Nashville Christmas show supporting a great album that was (and still is) raising funds for health care support for the homeless. It was a beautiful night indeed, as have all of our year-end holiday special shows. Another one is coming this week, and Julie Lee will be offering a full set of her wondrous, graceful music.
In Americana its rare that one’s first impression of an artist comes at the Ryman Auditorium, but that’s where I discovered Julie Lee. She’d been hand picked to open a big show featuring Alison Krauss and Union Station, and it was easy to see why there was a kinship. Julie’s voice has some similarly clean and cooing overtones to the famous Alison Krauss alto, and her songs were crisp statements with hand-stitched seams. That was a while ago now. In the decade-plus since, I’ve enjoyed all of Julie’s lovely albums, from the snappy Stillhouse Road of 2004 to the elegant 2014 release Till & Mule. UK music blogger Alan Cackett was unbounded in his praise of it and her artistry in general: “Julie Lee is neither bluegrass nor folk nor country nor any one thing in particular. She writes and sings music that is hard-to-define and carries on in her own dignified manner, making some of the most entrancing records you’re ever likely to hear.”
Lee is still admired by Alison Krauss, who has recorded several of her songs. She’s had a song or two placed in the show “Nashville.” And she’s toured domestically and in Europe, though far less than justice would allow. She’ll appear on Roots this week with her “Baby Daddies” band featuring MCR MVPs Mike Bub on bass and Kenny Vaughan on guitar. But in the meantime, get over to watch the Beautiful Night live performance video from 2012 and spread the news. That thing had less than 500 views last I checked and so that leaves about 7 billion people who truly need to hear it and feel the artful command and shimmering beauty of Julie Lee’s artistry.
The holidays don’t mean a thing if they ain’t got that swing, so we’ve invited the Gypsy Hombres back to Roots for the first time in a while. The veteran group has been Nashville’s channel to the distinctive and indispensible hot jazz style pioneered by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli since being founded in 1995 by violinist Peter Hyrka. Today’s lineup includes bass player Jason Oettel and multi-instrumentalist Rory Hoffman. If you’ve been hanging out with us lately, you’ve seen a lot of Rory. He got his own featured set at this summer’s Guitar Night and he recently backed John Cowan with blazing musicality. In a city full of guitarists, he’s one of the top must-know pickers, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen any musician who can move from winds to keys to strings and play like a master on all. This will be enthralling.
While not a Christmas show in any formal way, we’re still pulling this together as one of our year’s big nights for family. Bring the kids. Because we’re kicking the night off with Nashville’s only punk rocking, folk singing avatar of agriculture, Farmer Jason. The same Jason Ringenberg who smashed the nation’s idea of Nashville in the 1980s with Jason and the Scorchers is funny and free-wheeling as he sings “Moose On The Loose” and “Punk Rock Skunk.” He’s Exhibit A if anybody complains that Americana is too earnest and uptight. And Exhibit B is East Nashville’s wonderful dude and band leader Tom Mason who’s cornered the market on Singing Like A Pirate with his band The Blue Buccaneers. And yes, it’s light hearted but at its core is a serious blending of roots music traditions, including Caribbean island sounds, Southern blues (Tom’s a great slide player) and barroom folk rock. Tom’s made a few Christmas records in his time, so he’ll show us that pirates have a mercy/mild side to go with their wild side.
And that’s not all friends. Come early to enjoy the pre-show holiday glow of the Music City Strings. This award-winning ensemble of kids was established in Franklin in 2005, and they’ll be setting up first in the Factory foyer near our Roots Radio station and then on stage as folks arrive. We’ll stream the last 15 minutes of their music on the webcast too. So we’ll be ready with gifts of music and Blackstone cheer (rhymes with beer). It’ll be a beautiful night.