We know better than to complain about winter weather here in Tennessee, even though we do. One of our radio affiliate friends in North Dakota wrote me this week to say they were looking at base temperatures as low as -25 plus blustery winds. We know how bad Boston’s had it with snow that’s literally covered cars and homes. We’re deep in the siege of winter now, and we send our thoughts and prayers to listeners, fans, friends and musicians out there. Here in Nashville this morning, cold rain is falling on an inch or two of ice and snow, making a sloppy slurry of slush. It’s another day cooped up inside, and while we love our little cabin home on the hill, we’ve got cabin fever to beat the band.
So we were REALLY looking forward to doing our show last Wednesday, but as you may know, because of ice on the roads and a deep freeze, we were forced to call it off for the first time in our five year history. Instead of good times with Greensky Bluegrass, we had to content ourselves with a web stream of our famous Snowpocalypse show from February 2011, when the musicians outnumbered the audience.
So we’re extra determined to defy the elements and have a show this week, and what a rich, comforting lineup we have in store. It almost has a theme, in that three of our guests are old friends and colleagues from in and around the musically exceptional town of Bowling Green, Kentucky. A blue moon must shine on this city north of Nashville for it’s produced MCR regulars Sam Bush and John Cowan, as well as the mighty Bill Lloyd and many other musical notables. This week’s Team Bowling Green includes the beloved powerhouse singer Jonell Mosser, country rocker and songwriting smarty pants Tommy Womack and delicious eclectic vocalist Lisa Oliver Gray.
More on them in a moment, but let’s first talk about our non Kentucky guys, because they’re impressive big deals. In a world where some of us think country music and Music Row have lost their minds and their musical souls, Jamey Johnson’s career suggests that a true traditionalist and an independent minded artist can still find a foothold in the Nashville biz. I first saw him when he was newly signed to BNA Records in the mid 2000s, and he stood out as the countriest country singer I’d heard at a major label since the days of Waylon and Willie. A booming baritone voice conveyed stories and ideas that were rustic and everyday but not cliché. Jamey had about a half a hit at radio himself (too country for country), but his songs lit up the board for others, and he found a perch at Mercury Records where he made an album (That Lonesome Song) that ran away with the Nashville Scene’s critics’ poll top recording of 2009. He repeated the feat in 2013 with his amazing Hank Cochran tribute album. Fierce, singular and a bit ornery, Johnson feeds our need for country that says something and is something. We’re very excited to have him play our stage.
James House is an artist on a roll. He’s an MCR Alum having played a piledriving, passionate set as part of band The Troubadour Kings. But this will be his solo debut, coming as part of a big year of touring around the release of the new album Songwriters Serenade. And boy howdy is James House a songwriter. Remember Dwight Yoakam’s gorgeous and career landmark “Ain’t That Lonely Yet”? That’s a House co-write. So is Martina McBride’s “Broken Wing.” He’s had songs cut by a wild range of stars, from Tina Turner to Kylie Minogue. On his own, House has a timeless blues rock orientation that’s spiked with country. We’re part of a breakout phase for James as a featured artist, including his recent Grand Ole Opry debut and sold out tours in the UK. When we go to Belfast for the songwriters festival in March, James will be there, playing at multiple venues. We’ll be doing our best to be seen with him.
When I see Jonell Mosser turn up for soundcheck and the show, I shall hug her and apologize for not having her on Roots sooner. Kind of crazy of us. If you’d asked anybody to make an A List of roots music artists in Nashville when I moved here (mid 90s) Jonell would have been on every one. Her voice has been widely regarded as American epic stuff and her career as one of the head-scratching might-have-beens. She danced with major labels for a time, but the machine let her down. Instead she’s got a long term spot on the top of that chart called R-E-S-P-E-C-T, because her singing will remind you of Aretha, and Janis, and Stevie, and etc. Jonell is widely seen all over town, but we’re relieved and honored to have her on our lineup at last.
Speaking of special voices, Lisa Oliver Gray is a wonderful catch for us, because she’s frequently heard but rarely out in front. We’ve loved her voice on the show as a side musician for Tommy Womack, Will Kimbrough and their supergroup DADDY. Tommy wrote a wonderful bio for her that relates: “After years of cover gigs in Kentucky bars, Lisa moved on to Chicago for a stint singing jazz, then on to Nashville in 1989. I followed to Music City some years after that, and our stars orbited, Then I saw her with Wayne Kramer, asked her to join my band, and it’s been Heaven on wheels ever since.” He loves her. We love her. And her debut recording as a soloist called Dedicated To Love is indeed a lovely piece of work, with many moods and one bright through line of truth and artistry.
Good old Tommy Womack is a staple of Roots, with a number of sets under his belt. It’s always a joy catching up with him. His influence on the Bowling Green crew will be unmistakable. I think we might expect some collaborations. Tommy’s been hosting a show on East Nashville Radio and gearing up for a reunion of his first great rock and roll band Government Cheese, including a set on Roots later this year. Tommy is consistent, warm and appealing. Unlike a certain season I could mention.