I dressed up as a mild-mannered interview guy for Music City Roots for Wednesday night’s show. Zany, I know, but I’m just trying to keep it real. We had a bit of a costume party at the Barn on our first-ever Halloween Roots (including a fortune-teller, a banana, our own Megan as a Twister game and actor/singer John Corbett as a hooded mystery dude). But what we mostly had was a big bag of musical sweets that flowed from Southern blues rock into sophisticated folk. Others might have run the evening in reverse, building up to the electrified pulse of the Dirt Daubers, but you know, we’re contrary sometimes.
To start with, we love a surprise and the Dirt Daubers brought one, with late-breaking personnel and stylistic changes that frankly blew my intro all to hell. The string band is now electric, and the upright bass has been handed to willowy Jessica Wilkes, while the group has added thumping drummer Preston Corn and greasy guitarist Rod Hamdallah. Up front, of course, the lean and intense Col. J.D. Wilkes, singing lead on the great “Wild Moon” while Hamdallah pinched vibrant, glowing and dirty tone out of his electric, like a demonic Merle Travis. The North Mississippi groove set a tone for a night when there was plenty of boogie to ward off the bogeymen. Oh, and big cheers for the last two songs performed by Jessica, especially “Apples And Oranges,” a slinky, sexy rock and roll bossa nova.
The Black Cadillacs were more town car than hearse, with a sound that would have to tip its hat to the Stones, Creedence and Pink Floyd in equal measure. Classic as their name, the six-piece loudly filled up the sonic spectrum with opener “Find My Own Way.” Easing back a bit was the first half of “Goodbye Fate,” where Will Horton’s voice got the attention it deserves. The guys are kinetic on stage, their bodies in constant motion. Shout out to Phillip Anderson’s daring but anchoring bass playing.
The Owsley Brothers presented a more spacious sound while still pushing the fuzz-toned energy of electric guitar to the fore. Those guitarists – not brothers at all by the way – were Jerad Reynolds and Brian Wise, both sporting slides on their left hands, which they used here and there, complimenting one another without stepping on each other. The tone was dirty but clean, fat but spare, in a simple trio format (drums by John Rienlie). Reynolds is a natural at howling blues, which is pretty rare for a bespectacled young guy. Comparisons to the White Stripes or early Black Keys are apt. Their song “Pure Lust,” a favorite among the rock bloggers, should be in a Quentin Tarantino film, stat.
From Florida boys to Memphis Dawls we went, as the night took its acoustic turn. Three woman making striking fashion statements that may or may not have been amped for Halloween, took the stage wielding guitar (Holly Cole), cello (Jana Misener) and mandolin/violin (Krista Wroten) and launched into some of the most unique and edgy folk we’ve heard in a long time. Aided by drummer Jesse Williams and trumpet player Nahshon Benford, they pursued an upbeat almost bluegrassy cadence in “Where’d You Go” and a breezier vibe on “Anna.” But the spotlight kept coming back to the three voices working together. The note-perfect and daring harmonies kept growing in intensity and complexity through the set, making for a mesmerizing aura. I put a star in my notes next to “Shoot Em Down,” whose western vibe felt like Marty Robbins crossed with the Andrews Sisters. Or something like that.
We can always count on local cats Humming House to do us a solid wherever they are in the lineup, and Wednesday night that was in that privileged spot on musical bills that some call headlining but which we call “last”. The quintet kicked off with two of their best-loved songs, the guitar biography song “Cold Chicago” and the infectiously rhythmic and energetic “Stop Me Still” led by the woodgrain solid voice of Justin Wade Tam. Fellow vocalist Kristen Rogers took the lead on “What Have We Got To Lose,” their seductive soul slow jam. “Fly On” was a stomper that featured a sizzlin’ bass solo by Ben Jones. That set up the Loveless Jam, a song I don’t think Jim Lauderdale had ever proposed before, Jimmy Rogers’s “In The Jailhouse Now.” The call and response vocals on this one made for a satisfying sing-along.
Scary? Not a bit. Soul-satisfying? Yep.