I noted in my preview post that the gas in our show’s tank, besides musical creativity, is community. Inspired by Virginian Scott Miller I called it Our Commonwealth, though if you’ll notice I stopped short of declaring us our own sovereign nation, tempting though that may be. And Wednesday night’s show validated my premise. We kept running into long lost friends. Country singer Jessica Stiles popped up across the chicken buffet. Amy Reitnouer, doyenne of the Bluegrass Situation surprised us with a drop-in, along with bass man/songwriter Jon Weisberger. Songwriter Jen Mize turned up, and we met her in AUSTRALIA. Social vixen Megan McNair returned to host the online LIvestream chat, to much digital rejoicing. And even our long-time monitor mixing man Andrew Dowling appeared as if out of nowhere. It was a night of double takes.
On stage, there were a few of those as well. I didn’t expect such poppy nectar from opener Adam Burrows for example. One gets used to the twangy Americana guy with vintage-looking guitar type, but Mr. Burrows wiped that out with shapely songs featuring tangy beats and David Gray-ish melodies. His opener was clean and summery over an unusual brush snare groove. Sideman Josh Preston busted out a melodica (a favorite sound of mine) for one tune and twinkled on some psychedelic guitar lines elsewhere. Set ender “Forward” was a tasty love song, set up oh so conveniently by the line, “So I’m getting married Saturday.” That’s a good one for audience rapport Adam. I’d keep using it as long as you can get away with it.
East Nashville real deal bluegrass cooker/looker Rebecca Frazier went second, arriving with the floaty title track of her When We Fall album and sliding into the old-time bounce of her own “Better Than Staying.” The best moment for me was when the full band complimented her cycling guitar riff with a big slamming entrance on “Ain’t Going To Work Tomorrow.” So great to hear the Hit & Run band and Rebecca nail a traditional tune on top of her slick songwriting. Super fiddling came from Brian Arrowood. Rebecca’s husband John shimmered on the mandolin, and his bride’s voice really soared on the big finale of her sizzling set.
Scott Miller’s Commonwealth – his band – has been shaggy and mannish in the past but by last night it had become particularly comely with Rayna Gellert on fiddle and Bryn Davies on acoustic bass, which in her case is like getting a virtual drummer in the band, so percussive is her plunking. He opened with the ole’ Miller standard “I Made A Mess Of This Town” and then Rayna’s mournful fiddle gave “I Can’t Go Back To Her Love Anymore” a misty, low Appalachian tone. She went even lower with what I supposed was a viola or an octave viola or maybe a neck cello on “I Gave You The Power,” a rocking, punchy number. Oh yes, and there was a guy on stage too singing these fine songs, climaxing with “How Am I Ever Gonna Be Me?” from the upcoming, ready-to-go Big Big World album. It’s quintessential Miller with its mix of worldly wisdom, hope and humor. That would be your Roots meat and potatoes kind of set right there.
I had to re-set my expectations with Water Liars as well. At first, their volume and melodrama built a wall. But then a Buddy Holly kind of vocal and a shift in tone to a more limpid and swelling kind of vibe made for a satisfying set. Justin Kinkel-Schuster put his lost, soaring voice on really nice display in the second half as drummer/vocalist/partner Andrew Bryant joined for Louvin-esque harmonies. It was post-modern country and blue rock and roll, steeped in Mississippi. Nice set.
I got the pleasure of taking over the host microphone to introduce Jim Lauderdale, who brought a bluegrass band to die for. I mean wow. I can rattle off the names (Mike Compton on mandolin, Billy Contreras on fiddle, Randy Kohrs on dobro, Scott Vestal on banjo and Jay Weaver on bass) and it sounds real impressive and star-studded. But it’s the coherent togetherness and the groove set by Jim’s songwriting that really did it. I mean there aren’t adjectives for the feeling a band this blue and swinging and authentic. It’s a feeling you start to recognize only after hanging out in Nashville and around the world’s best pickers. And then there were the songs. “Old Time Angels,” the title track to the album being teased and previewed, is a fun re-casting of murder ballad victims, and it would pique the interest even if you didn’t know all the character name checks. Then the set traveled from the lazy sway of “Tell Me What I Mean” through heartfelt country gospel on “I Don’t Want To Be A Sinner Anymore” through the banjo-driven accelerator that was “Hold On Honey, Hold On.” I felt like I was holding on tight the whole time.
And finally, a good old Hank standard to wrap a lovely evening, as the gang performed “I Saw The Light.” Great solos all around, especially Mike Compton’s ultra-Monroe-ish mandolin. Thanks to all for a great night. It was a show I’d be happy to watch twice.