Our final show of the season coincided with the 2012 Summer solstice, and indeed the day seemed to stretch on endlessly, with sunlight spilling into the Loveless Barn well into the middle of Roots. The wheels of the cosmos seemed to line up, and we gathered together like druids around Stonehenge for a night of music and camaraderie. Our deep lineup of pop singer/songwriters know each other well and functioned like a semi-collective, as we saw Bill sing with David and Molly sing with Jason and Jason sing with David. And then there was the Cumberland Collective, featuring ten superb musicians meshing together like they’d been at it much longer than a few months. It was one of our less rootsy shows, but it was certainly one of our most Music City shows.
Rarely do we get to open with a bona fide star, but for the millions who’ve heard and loved Sixpence None The Richer over 15 years, lead singer Leigh Nash fits that bill. Looking elegant and down home in a black beaded dress over cowboy boots, she sang spare and solo, with only her husband Stephen Wilson on guitar and voice as support. This cast the spotlight fully on her voice, which has both pure, clean lines as well as an artful edge that gives her buckets of personality. Two opening songs came from the much-anticipated new Sixpence album, due out August 7. “When You Call Me” had a sneaky melody in a minor mode, plus an emphatic chorus. Then she really settled into a folky, country place for the second half of her set, ending with a simply searing version of Gram Parsons’s “In My Hour of Darkness.” She’s from New Braunfels, Texas, home of Gruene Hall, so she’s got country soul in her bones. When she’s out this Fall rocking arenas we’ll remember this spare and delicious performance.
Then things scaled up fast as the Cumberland Collective took over the stage. Ten musicians put on a clinic in working together and staying out of each other’s way, and the sound was pure joy. Underneath was a smoking rhythm section with a clear-toned acoustic bass and a kit drummer with bite, plus a guy on cajon and another on washtub drum and other bangy objects. Lead vocals kept moving around, even within songs, like the opener “Small Stuff,” and it became clear their singing ranged from excellent to extraordinary. “Somewhere New” was a rippling country tune with gospel tones and a traveling theme that made me crave a road trip – with Cumberland Collective in the stereo. One standout singer – Jason Eskridge – melted the room taking lead on the smoldering “Sweet Love” and the show closer “Every Beat Of My Heart” was a glorious funky soul rave-up that could have rolled on all night. The CC gave off a vibe of selflessness and musical diversity and integrity that meshes perfectly with what we do. Hope to see them back at Roots soon.
And then we returned to our roots/pop collective, starting with the cerebral yet emotional Jason White. Making what he told me was his first proper show in 2012 after a challenging year on the personal front, Jason showed no rust. He opened in duo with friend/colleague David Mead on “Red Ragtop” the song that brought him scads of attention and some nice royalties when recorded (quite nicely by the way) by country star Tim McGraw. Then “Little Pieces of Plastic” dug hard into society and the economy with White’s sardonic eye. But the highlight of the set was “Ordinary Day.” David Mead returned to the stage and with uke and guitar, these two magnificent voices melded together in an iconic beauty of a song, featuring Beatles-worthy harmonies and the kindest imaginable melody. I like to think that was the exact moment of the Summer Solstice, and I’m not going to look it up to maintain the happy illusion.
Swan Dive has sartorial elegance to spare. Bill DeMain was in a bottle green vintage suit with a Mad Men tie, and Molly Felder sported a slim two-tone striped dark dress. But it’s the substance behind the style that’s made them respected and famous Nashvillians. Their songs range from the jazzy, finger-snappy “Down On Love” to the drifting melancholy of “Quiet Song” to a pure bossa nova original complete with Portuguese lyrics. They wrapped up on two ukuleles – one large and one small – strumming a tune of spare 1950s simplicity and breezy ease. It was called “Under The Palms,” and it made us go “Ahhhhhhh.”
Lastly but not leastly, Mr. David Mead returned for his featured set, with Bill DeMain on second guitar and harmony. David has a voice like no other – serene but authoritative, romantic but worldly wise. His broken-hearted “Blackberry Winters” with its portrait of a “child of the South” running away to hide was a stunner. The songs of places and journeys continued with “Indiana” and the glorious “Nashville,” which wrapped up this set of lovingly chosen words and graceful musical gestures.
Now before we sign off for a couple weeks and some deserved rest, let us raise our glasses and express our love for Jim Lauderdale. All season he’s been hitting us with superb, new-born songs from his Mississippi recording sessions and singing his yin-yang off. Last night’s well-chosen and beautifully played Loveless Jam was just another example of how Jim is our musical glue. He tore it up on the choruses of “Stand By Me” while also sharing the spotlight with our gang of great singers and pickers. Then he conducted the savvy band to a cool false finish and then a grand, standing O finale. It was the best Jam of the season, capping off one of the finest shows. The Music City talent overfloweth, and it’s wonderful to have a global platform via that crazy internet so that almost anyone in the world can tune in and share this great time. If you have been doing so, we thank you and welcome to stick with us as we continue to spread the soulful, collective sound of Music City Roots.