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Beyond Ladies Night – 9.28.16

Guest post by Larry Nager

The easiest way to describe the Sept. 28 Music City Roots was Ladies Night – our four acts were all led by women. But outside of their creators’ XX chromosomes, those four sets of music had virtually nothing in common. It was an unusual night in more ways than that. With host Jim Lauderdale and “interview guy” Craig Havighurst at the IBMA’s annual gathering in Raleigh, Sam Bush and I were called in. Fortunately, golden-throated MCR announcer Keith Bilbrey was minding the store and maintaining standards.

Sam and his trademark mandolin, “Hoss,” appropriately opened the evening with a well-known musical female, Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country.” Although it’s not on his fine new CD, Storyman, it captured that album’s singer-songwriter approach while showing off his mandolin mastery, setting the song to a bluesy, Allman-style riff. Pound for pound, there is no better, more dynamic mandolin picker on earth.

Angel Snow, fresh from her weekend performance at Franklin’s Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival played the first set, backed by lap steel guitarist Jason Goforth. Recently signed to Nettwerk (Sarah McLachlan’s longtime label), she’s working on a folk-pop record that expands her sound with electronics, but it’s hard to imagine how she could improve upon the simple beauty of her MCR set, stripped down to two guitars and one voice, creating an atmosphere at once rootsy and ethereal.

Anna & Elizabeth followed with an equally bare-bones approach – beautiful vocal harmonies backed by Elizabeth’s simple clawhammer banjo or Anna’s minimalist guitar accompaniment. Anna Roberts-Gevalt hails from Vermont and Elizabeth Laprelle is from Virginia, but their close harmony recalled country music’s great sibling duos of the 1930s. The highlight was their a cappella duet on the folk music mainstay “The Golden Vanity,” featuring Anna singing and turning the “Crankie,” a wooden machine that moves a very long bolt of illustrated fabric like a moving slide show, its images synchronized with the lyrics (thanks to Anna’s steady hand) to tell a story in words and pictures, a sort of acoustic music video. It’s based on a fad from the mid-19th Century, but it was mesmerizing, the crowd watching in dead silence. This was Appalachian folk music as art, springing from a sound as traditional as an old shellac 78, but reaching far beyond revivalism to create an utterly contemporary musical vision. It was their first MCR appearance, but it won’t be their last.

MCR regulars Miss Tess and the Talkbacks followed and brought things back down to earth with their good-time swing, rockabilly and blues, the five songs culled from their hot new disc, Baby, We All Know. But along with rocking tunes like “Ride That Train,” and “I Can’t Help Myself,” showcasing her lead guitarist and producer Thomas Bryan Eaton, Miss Tess threw her own curveball into the evening, ending with “Going Downtown,” an eerie, darker song that packed real emotional power, pointing to a new direction in her songwriting and sound.

The evening ended with another MCR debut, this one featuring Austin singer-songwriter/violinist/tenor guitarist Carrie Rodriguez. Best known for performing with singer-songwriter and MCR veteran Chip Taylor (“Wild Thing,” “Angel of the Morning”) Rodriguez reached back to her family’s musical roots for her MCR debut.

Accompanied by her longtime partner Luke Jacobs on guitar, she performed songs from her newest album, Lola, a tribute to traditional Mexican music, featuring classics like “Perfidia” as well as her own songs, written in hybrid “Spanglish.” Her great aunt was the legendary singer Eva Garza, and she pays tribute to another female icon of Mexican music in the album title, Lola, and more specifically, her song, “ I Wish I Was Lola Beltran.” A classically-trained violinist, Rodriquez showed off her considerable chops, mixing the plaintive sounds of Mexican balladry with Appalachian fiddle tune “Cluck Old Hen,” before closing with the Chip Taylor rocker, “I Cry for Love,” that had both the crowd and the musicians backstage rocking along with her. Rodriguez’ MCR debut was a star turn, a wildly diverse showcase that erased all borders, musical and otherwise. Call her sound “Pan-Americana”. And by the way, Rodriguez’ was the second “Lola” song of the night. Miss Tess did her own “Little Lola,” about a neighbor’s cat, not a Mexican music great. If only Ray Davies was there, we could have had a “Lola” triple play.

The jam brought us back to Nashville, as Rodriquez and Jacobs were joined by the other musicians and host Sam Bush for a jumping take on Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin.’” Bookended by those two great American touchstones, Dylan and Hank, MCR’s Ladies Night was all over the map, performed by female artists creating, not just their own sounds, but their own genres, in an evening of genuinely, often stunningly, original music.

Photo by Shelly Swanger

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