The DNA of Music City is recombinant. It’s entirely natural and inevitable for artists heading in one direction to fuse with others in collaborative efforts that take a new path together. We’ve enjoyed the fruits of some of these connections at Roots, including married duo Elenowen, swinging Sugar & The Hi-Lows and retro-cool Humming House. One of the most exciting new unions of Nashville stand-outs bears the name Luella And The Sun, and this highly-praised band will be a big part of this Wednesday night’s show.
While it’s a four-piece, I suspect many who’ve followed the music scene around The Family Wash, The 5 Spot and The Basement will view Luella And The Sun as a long hoped-for musical pairing of singer/songwriter Melissa Mathes and guitarist Joe McMahan. Melissa hails from Milwaukee and spent the 2000s in Nashville building a reputation as a singer with a special aura. Her swan-neck looks would have inspired Greek poets back in the day, and her voice is an edgy, earthy and stylized instrument that has reminded me at times of Billie Holliday, Rosetta Tharpe, Cindy Lauper and Kate Bush, but then I’m a peculiar person.
She made the glorious, rangy and finely crafted album Play Along with Nashville keyboard dude/producer John Deaderick a year or two ago, and it needs a much wider hearing. She’s also been an in-demand support musician. Mathes has this to say about her predilections in her own short bio: “I love dark and pretty sounds… and I also love rootsy and straight forward, and I also love raw rock… I love having lotsa colors, lotsa palettes to play in.” Plus Grimey’s loves her. We’re in.
The palette of Luella And The Sun comes largely from the Deep South and the dank Delta, thanks in part to the guitar textures of Joe McMahan. When last we saw this fantastic musician on Roots, he was backing his old friend Kevin Gordon. But he’s been sideman to all kinds of Americana stars over the years, including Allison Moorer, Mike Farris, Sarah Siskind and Patrick Sweany. The stuff he touches is invariably fine.
The new band grew out of some instrumental experimenting Joe committed with a couple of buddies on bass and drums. Adding Luella (Mathes) in the lead vocal spot birthed a group that grinds, sizzles, shakes, buzzes, sears and even howls a bit. The guitar beds burn with Mississippi swelter and something else besides. East Nashville mojo? Luella startles with her daring, emotional voice. This should be outstanding.
We’re always excited of course when The Vespers visit. There’s not much I can add to my overview of this fresh and fantastic band from the last time they played, except to say there has been MUCH more touring and media love in support of their current album The Fourth Wall. I’ve seen The Vespers almost a half dozen times now and they’ve never failed to A) show growth and development and B) deliver the exciting core sound that was present at their first encounters in 2009.
Many folks will come out to the barn this week to see the fast-rising Shelly Colvin. She’s been profiled by Daytrotter and CMT’s Edge, where she offered a pretty direct view of her musical home space: “I’ve got every Emmylou Harris and Byrds record you can get your hands on … Flying Burrito Brothers, Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, Linda Ronstadt, Karla Bonoff and Neil Young. Those writers and artists helped shape my sense of melody and lyric, without question.” So she’s working from the core of Americana music outward with a graceful touch and lush melodies. Her album Up The Hickory Down The Pine will be for sale and methinks some will rush to pick it up after Shelly’s set.
Rounding out the bill is Andrew Duhon, flagged as the finest singer/songwriter in New Orleans. He should have great stories to match his compositions. Birmingham-raised, Denver-based songwriter Mandi Rae will also be on stage for a set. So we’re well-rounded as usual, with ample doses of heat and light. Just like the sun.