You want to know why it’s a good idea to come to Music City Roots and actually sit there through everything, whether it’s the best thing you ever heard or not? Okay, I’ll just speak for myself here, but it’s not just the discovery of the new. That’s a given. It’s the discovery of that which has been under one’s nose for some time that can be truly special. These experiences can be revelatory or, in the case I want to tell you about, a little embarrassing. I was shocked and amazed and enthralled by Tommy Womack’s final song, “Alpha Male And The Canine Mystery Blood.” The title tells you a lot about the song. It’s odd and honest. It rambles, stream of consciousness through wild inner terrain and conflicted feelings, touching on 80s nostalgia, fatherhood and scenes from the new, weird America. Over four chords in a hypnotic cycle, Tommy preached from a deep place, with a wry grasp of the sacred and the profane. It was Dylan on a bender meets James McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make It Here.” It was pure Womackian genius.
So when Tommy and I got to talking about the song before our interview, I surmised it was from his upcoming album. No, actually, it was on 2007’s There, I Said It! he informed me. Oh jeez. I wanted to die. I HEARD that album when it came out, but surely in one of those states of rush-and-multi-task that makes up so much of life these days. Maybe “Alpha Male” wasn’t meant to be best appreciated on CD. I clearly had to experience it live to have it shove me in the sternum like it’s supposed to. And that brings me back to the fierce urgency of being there. There’s just no substitute.
It was a good night to be there all around. Womack’s set kicked off a varied, entertaining roll call of Americana talent. In the discovery department, our Vietti artists Valley Young really were spectacular. Knoxville-based, they brought the drummer from the former everybodyfields and current-day Black Lillies, as well as a lush pedal steel, so with a male/female vocal duo front, comparisons to those bands will be inevitable. Artemus James played guitar and Annabelle LaFoy played keys, and together, they definitely hit gorgeous vocal climaxes in songs like “Beggar’s Hymn.” The set closer “Lonesome Mountaintop” conjured low-hanging clouds and Appalachian humidity. Very beautiful and stark.
We followed with two spare male troubadours, both making return appearances on the show. Jerry Leger uses simple elements to achieve complex results. His love and capacity for dense, absorbing language was clear in “Isabella,” while “Truth Is All Around You” was a kind of beat-poet blues. Leger is a Toronto-based songwriter whose earned some worthy attention through the support of the delicate-voiced Ron Sexsmith, and methinks that if you like Ron, you’ll value Jerry’s literate and sincere work too. And then, where Leger performed virtually solo (only a bass to accompany), Rayland Baxter really stripped it down to man/guitar/chair. He has a gentle, sincere and direct voice, and the same could be said of his lyrics. His “Dreamin’” hushed the crowd with its romantic wistfulness. And “The Woman For Me” is open-book relatable, about a small town guy who’s seen all his prospects and yearns for a soul connection. Baxter then donned a greasy electric guitar for his set-closing “Bad Things,” a song of karma and regret set to a fuzz-toned wail.
The Defibulators, raucous country wonder-band from Brooklyn took the stage and surprised me anyway by starting out with a song that sounded almost like tame country called “Papers.” Had Erin Bru, Bug Jennings and company lost their attitude? No! With “Cacalacky” they brought the full brazen punky energy that is their stock in trade. I got a bit involved in the party that ensued during their set, so I didn’t write anything down. But we all dug it. They’re seriously entertaining without taking themselves too seriously. We’re certainly looking forward to the follow up album to their successful Corn Money debut, due they said this winter and to future visits. We’ll be there.