You may know that a couple of years ago during World of Bluegrass in Raleigh I got a silhouette of my home state North Carolina tattooed on my left forearm. It was a gesture of pride in the place that birthed Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Edward R. Murrow and Jim Lauderdale, among other claims to fame. Well, lately I’ve been tempted to add a teardrop to the art on my arm out of sadness for some of the notorious and noxious nonsense being perpetrated by a state legislature that I’m certain doesn’t speak for or represent the hearts and minds of most Carolinians. So I needed some good news from the Old North State, and when it arrived, no surprise, it came in musical form. Asheville band Town Mountain, perhaps the finest hard core bluegrass band of its generation, dropped another album and it’s a rolling, rollicking, edgy roots masterwork. And they won’t be the only North Carolina-reared artists on this week’s Roots either. It’ll be a show that will touch on the state’s legacy of bluegrass and country blues, and in the finale by the Willis Clan, we’ll at least allude to the state’s vital role in blending Irish music into the American sound.
I’d put Town Mountain on my list of Five Bluegrass Bands You Must Know in 2016, because while the genre has forked and morphed in wonderful ways, these guys from Asheville have more Flatt & Scruggs and more Jimmy Martin in their sound than any young band I can think of. And when they do nod to other influences, they tend to be from parallels to the early bluegrass era, like Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins for example. It’s been more than a decade now since they announced their arrival with a win at the Rockygrass band competition. And they’ve honed a unique identity around the voice of Robert Greer, the banjo of Jesse Langlais, the mandolin and singing of Phil Barker and Bobby Britt’s fiddle.
The band went way south to make the new Southern Crescent album, gathering at the studio of famed Cajun musician Dirk Powell in Breaux Bridge, LA. Greer says some of that swampy humidity made it into the sessions, which were very much old school around a few microphones. Greer told Bluegrass Today that the sessions were the first time they’d actually met Powell in person. “We go in and he’s got three mics set up in this awesome room and says ‘A’right, let’s get to it!’ He wanted us to work it like we’re onstage. I sang everything live and we recorded like we were standing in his living room. I came out of that experience thinking that’s how I want to record every record from here on out.”
Also pro-honesty in music and also from North Carolina, at least originally, are Tim and Danny Carter, who perform as The Carter Brothers. Nashville based for years, they’ve been both preservers of the Carter Family legacy of authentic mountain music (they’re related by blood to A.P. Carter) and jazzed up acoustic music through kinship with Americana grassers like Tim O’Brien and Sam Bush. With equal love for Jimi Hendrix and Doc Watson they can do it in an easy going acoustic fashion or punch it up with rock and roll. They’re incredibly genial and collaborative, so they totally fit with the MCR vibe.
If the Carter Brothers name is literal, then The Walking Guys may be even more so. As I understand their story, songwriter Benjamin Hoefling decided to walk from Portland, ME to Nashville (1,600 miles) as kind of a great American adventure. Three other guys signed on for the walk, with much music making along the route. So they weren’t even a band at the beginning, but one has to imagine they were rather bonded by the end of the journey last November. Our crack booking team says they’re way more than just a gimmick; they can really play and write. Their motto is “Live Simple. Spread Music” and we can definitely get behind that.
Closing the night will be another family situation and definitely the biggest band of the evening. The Willis Clan will pick up on our Irish thread from March when we did our annual exchange with Belfast. But the Clan have been in Nashville for years, living an unlikely story. Let’s say it would be tough for any introverts born into this big family, because they live in the spotlight, with a family band, a reality show on TLC and tons of social media. The comfort level with all that supports their music, which is Celtic at its core with touches from contemporary country to gospel. We’ve been wanting to get their rollicking down-home thing on our stage for a while.
So regroup from your Memorial Day weekend and come join us on Wednesday. Bonus points if you walk.