Nashville is nothing if not a crossroads, and in recent weeks we’ve had a run of fascinating and talented artists who by and large have hailed from places down those roads in every direction. This week, whether by happy accident or design, we’re staging a small Music City miracle of a show with vividly different and important artists who live and work right here in Nashville or Middle Tennessee.
We’re the global headquarters of songwriting, and we’ll have some of the best in Mary Gautier and Angaleena Presley. Pat McLaughlin has a great track record as a penman too, but when he performs the memories are usually made by his voice and power. Plus this week he brings his precociously talented son Jamie along for one of their increasingly frequent and popular duo gigs. And we’ll showcase the historically attuned side of the Music City scene with a band that would have been the hottest thing in Black Bottom (that was a neighborhood downtown) in the 1920s.
Let’s start with them and go in order of the night shall we? The Jake Leg Stompers just celebrated their tenth anniversary, but their origins span back almost a century to the dawn of recorded folk music. The great photographer of musicians and other things Bill Steber helped found the outfit as a musical outlet for his alter ego Hambone Willie Nevil. He gathered a band of revelers who share his passion and knowledge of the unbridled popular music from before WWII. With brassy singer Lela Mae Smith up front and a host of stringed instruments, kazoos, spoons, jugs and whatnot, the Stompers reanimate early jazz, hot swing and blues. They’re popular at the Station Inn and they’ve always taken incredible, imaginative care with their look and graphics. The Stompers will be a magnificent scene setter on Wednesday night.
Up next will be Angaleena Presley, fresh off national TV appearances and a Grand Ole Opry slot, all celebrating her exceptional debut album American Middle Class. I got turned on to her evocative and smart songwriting a few years ago by a friend, and I’ve been hoping she’d get her turn in the sun. After all, her sisters in country band Pistol Annies (Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe) sure have. Presley is maybe the most truth-telling, lyrically clever and edgy of the trio. Little details about her hard years in rural Kentucky are the hallmark of her country songcraft. She delivers her stories in a matter of fact voice that takes no bull. She played Roots ages ago, but in some ways this whole run is a debut because at last the world is hearing about this killer addition to the new femme-gem country roster of Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, Kelsey Waldon and etc.
Mary Gauthier is visiting us, and while that’s always a treat, this time she’s bearing the best album of her already impressive career. Trouble and Love has the stories and the phrases and the breathtaking revelations that we’ve come to expect from this late-blooming breakout Americana star. It’s also got a soundscape that’s super deep and delicious. CMT Edge’s Jewly Hight called it “one of the wisest testaments of broken-heartedness a singer-songwriter has ever committed to tape.” Recently on NPR’s Fresh Air she told the story of her rough years fighting addiction in New Orleans and her redemption through food (she owned a restaurant) and music. I was reminded, listening to that conversation, how observant and gracious Gauthier is as a person and artist. Those qualities in her music jump right off the grooves on Trouble and Love. So listenable and sustaining, this might be for her career what Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was for Lucinda Williams.
And how could our show land in Williamson County and not feature the local soul rock and roots king, Mr. Pat McLaughlin? He makes his debut on the show in a set paired with his son Jamie. Here we have an older man and a lad who’s not yet a man but two old souls for sure. Reports on Jamie’s guitar playing, singing and songwriting are piling up in Music City, and there’s little surprise that the heritage is strong with this one. Dad Pat is on anybody’s list of veteran MVPs in Nashville’s music scene as a writer, vocalist and performer. “No one since Dan Penn has better mixed ’60s soul idioms with country music sentiment,” the Chicago Sun-Times has said. “Pat McLaughlin is an American treasure.”
Uncle Pat, as he was called on a 2002 album, came to town in the late 70s by way of Iowa, San Francisco and Boston. In Nashville he earned deep respect right away and released a couple of albums through the L.A. division of Capitol Records with the production of rock legend Mitchell Froom. He’s been one of the ‘shows you must see to understand the real Nashville’ for decades before these recent boom years. His recent collaborative project with Al Anderson, Shawn Camp and others as The World Famous Headliners offered another glimpse of the power and lusty soul behind McLaughlin’s voice and phrasing.
As for Jamie, well there’s not a long story here yet because he’s fifteen years old. I rang up Pat to get a dad’s prospectus and he said his biggest surprise about Jamie’s journey so far is his passion for jazz. “He’s a Chet Baker guy,” he told me. And a big fan as well of funky, swampy R&B a la New Orleans master John Cleary. The other surprise is that in this case, it’s the son who’s asking dad to turn the music down: “We’re a softer band than the others I’ve been in. Jamie is content to play at a reasonable volume.” And finally, one of the nicest testimonials one can offer any musician, let alone a teenager: “He has a good way of letting the audience come to him.”
Hear that? The audience (that’s you) should come to him. And to Pat. And to all the other fine talents playing Roots this week at the Factory. It’s a locovore lineup from the richest fields for great music in America, our own home turf.