Barry Tashian paid the show a particularly high compliment near the end of last night, saying that Music City Roots reminded him why he’s long loved Nashville, that it captured the Nashville spirit at its best. That’s certainly what we all strive for each week. Not that we’re limited to Nashville artists by any means, but for so many who live in, migrate to or even pass through Music City, there’s an ethos that binds them together, one embracing quality, community and authenticity. I certainly felt like last night caught that perfectly.
It also proved we can challenge our audience a little bit and they respond. The night began with Minton Sparks, the first spoken word artist we’ve had on Roots. She’s been releasing albums and performing around town and around the country for going on ten years, and she has a way of casting a spell on her audiences. Sure enough, there wasn’t a peep in the barn during her whole set, save for laughter (Minton is wickedly funny) and wild applause. She even brought some of her racier material, like the double-entendre laden “Fill Her Up,” a portrait of a weathered female gas station attendant. Backed by the spare and elegant piano of Steve Conn, Sparks filled the barn with vivid pictures and characters, drawn from life.
Our Vietti emerging artist was the one performer of the evening who doesn’t have a Nashville zip code, but we all agreed we’d be quite happy if he moved here. Oregon-raised David Jacobs-Strain is a blues-based singer/songwriter who fell hard for Delta blues as a really young kid. He joked that he’d taken some heat for playing “age-inappropriate” material, like his set opener, Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen” when he was TWELVE. At twentysomething, he played the tune with the command and power of a senior bluesman. It was amazing. His daring precision with his slide, his bold and fresh chord voicings and his percussive right hand reminded me of only one other performer not born into the tradition and that’s the great Rory Block. Jacob-Strain’s original material wasn’t beholden to the Delta sound, which was nice. His “Halfway To The Coast” had a moody pop/soul sensibility. And such a striking voice. Can’t wait to watch his career progress.
Barry is half of the husband/wife duo Barry & Holly Tashian, longtime local favorites who’ve written songs for themselves and others in many veins. Their set was testimony to the feel-good power of acoustic music, from the lovely and lilting “Lucky Break” to a spot-on cover of “My Baby’s Gone” by the Louvin Brothers, one of their central influences. That was followed up by Tommy Womack, who can rock til the car alarms start but who took Roots as an occasion to draw harder on his country side. “On and Off The Wagon” was deeply twangy and funny in Tommy’s own peculiar way. He closed out with “Nobody From Nowhere,” singing with his co-writer and long time friend and collaborator Will Kimbrough. That tune is the opening cut on their most recent record together as the band DADDY, and it’s also there on Jimmy Buffett’s new album, making everyone in the Womack and Kimbrough households very happy.
And rounding out the night, a very different kind of storyteller joined us. Marshall Chapman has been revered in and out of Nashville since the 1970s, when she established herself as a phenomenal songwriter, rocking performer and all-around good-life-loving raconteur. She launched with the understated “I Love Everybody” and slayed with a sensitive cover of the great Cindy Walker song “Going Away Party.” Her tune “Goodbye Little Rock and Roller” was, she said, semi-autobiographical, in that some of it is true and some of it was made up so it would rhyme. But as usual with Chapman, you get a dose of wit and a whole lot of tough truth.
Her only stage-mate of the evening was friend of the show Danny Flowers, and he led the cast in a Loveless Jam on his smash “Tulsa Time.” And then it was time to go. But the perfect variety and top-flight skills and heart of every performer, plus the night’s dedication to our non-profit partners The Nature Conservancy made it all feel, well, natural. We’ll remember this one for a long long time.