Dynamic Range

We’re about to start music lessons for our 12-year old adopted daughter, so a few days ago we got to fooling around with her new digital piano. We were trying to just sound out a few simple melodies, and she remarked on the fact that I didn’t play every note the same volume, even on a ditty like Mary Had A Little Lamb. In fact I was kind of exaggerating, to see if she’d notice and to see if I could make that tune swing. Success on only one count. Anyway, I told her that’s DYNAMICS: loud, soft, loud, soft… And it’s one of those really important elements of music that often gets overlooked. There can be dynamics in one note, one measure, across a whole tune or across a whole night of different artists. And that’s what we had last night at the Loveless Barn. The energy fluctuated. The tides rose and fell. It was fabulous.

Sometimes it’s best to start with that energy on full blast, and that’s just what Billy Falcon and his band The Sowing Circle achieved right out of the gate. The 10-piece ensemble was awesomely tight and produced a rocking wall of sound on the opener “Fall To Me,” which was kicked off by our pal Stephanie Taylor knocking out a pulsing riff on the fiddle. Falcon’s beats were bold and large, the overall vibe somewhat 70s Springsteen. And his very personal heartbreaker “When,” the title track from his latest album, was truly a stunner. Has anybody cut this for country radio? Come on.

The dynamic shifted acousticward and Southward with Smokey’s Farmland Band out of Atlanta. I loved these guys, with their fluid drive and sharp picking. They launched with an instrumental, which is gutsy, but they were up to it. Then “Blackened Blue” (clever!) blended an Iko Iko beat with a Cajun fiddle texture. They swung one on “Lady Be Good” and they brought it home with big vocal harmonies and jammy excursions on “Green Gold Rush.” They ought to send a single of that to Al Gore.

Next it was time for calm beauty, and Mindy Smith brought that effortlessly. On tunes like “Raggedy Ann” and “Tennessee,” her golden voice filled the barn, and a total hush came over the sold out crowd for the first time. Her epic “Come to Jesus” pitted that voice against a huge, ringing open-tuned guitar, and her voice won. She’s a spellbinder, that Mindy, and the crowd was either rapt or going bananas with applause. Talk about dynamics.

The calm/elegant vibe continued into Peter Bradley Adams’ set. PBA’s liquid voice and Joe MacMahan’s swelling, vibraphone-ish guitar lent a mood to the opening “Darkening Sky” that perfectly fit the title. Most of the set consisted of songs from Peter’s new album Between Us. The feeling was understated and cinematic, which makes sense with his film music background.

Good dynamics would suggest that we amp it back up for the closer, and that we did, with the debut performance of Sugar & The Hi-Lows, a funky, danceable band featuring Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup. Their all-new, all-original songs were just fantastic, leaning on classic forms but jolting them alive with fresh melodies and synched-up vocal harmonies. The opener “The Last Time” jumped, while “Show and Tell” had a 70s pop silkyness. “See For Yourself” mingled a slinky vocal from Amy with a pumping, Stonesy riff. And “I’ve Got You Covered” was a nice 6/8 time slow dance that built through a well-crafted bridge to a big, bold climax. We loved it, and not just because Trent said sweet things about Music City Roots on stage. But that helped.

After that it was time for an all-hands take on “Stand By Me,” and that’s as good a benediction as one could hope for before sliding off into the night. See you next week for a big dynamic dose of bluegrass.

Craig H

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