Your correspondent hopes you will forgive him for skipping a column and double-dosing this post with a review of last Wednesday and a forecast of next Wednesday, as we all emerge from our Thanksgiving dining halls and shopping malls. It was a busy, beautiful time, with my real extended family and our musical family all together at the barn last week. Then we cooked and ate and rambled with our moms, dads, uncles, aunts, cousins until Saturday. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Thanksgiving is the greatest American holiday. The focus on family and feast is the best of the good life, and the prescribed dinner happens to be awesome. Our Roots feast was made of music of course, but the same factors apply; it tasted great and brought everyone together.
Who gets to listen to Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale together, in between 18 South, Shawn Camp and Mike Farris? We do, to our own amazement. The Church Sisters, the only group that hasn’t joined us on a Thanksgiving Eve before, were surprisingly mod sounding and reassuringly down-home. One friend out of town with whom I’ve seen a lot of music over the years, called this night her “dream lineup.” And we feel the same way. For the soulful country side of Americana, this was Nashville’s A Team. 18 South was on fire, and Jessi Alexander Stewart flipped us inside out with her emotional take on Randy Newman’s “Guilty.” Every position in every band tonight was state of the art: Marco Giovino on drums with Buddy and Jim. Guthrie Trapp playing guitar all over the place. Shawn Camp, leading his group with uncanny assurance. So some time during the holidays, resolve to fire up the archival video and play this show one evening while friends and family are gathered. It was the epic we were anticipating.
Now, it’s on with the rest of our show’s season and the holiday season, because we have some great stuff in store for you. Starting this Wednesday, we revisit East Nashville’s amazing music scene. Yes, it’s the hippest thing in America right now, and even the mainstream show “Nashville” knew it wouldn’t have any cred without setting part of the plot line amid the homes and haunts of our city’s vibrant, funky East Side. The 37206 zip code drew me in when I moved here way back in 1996, and the very first person I met over the breakfast bar (an actual bar – not like Denny’s) at the Radio Cafe turned out to be a member of Steve Earle’s band. Ever since, the ‘hood seemed built on a foundation of music to me, and we’ve watched with excitement as venues like Slow Bar kindle the fire and the Five Spot carry the torch for live music.
East Nashville is mostly but not entirely about Americana, but as that part of it goes, this is another dream lineup. I helped assemble this one, and I seemed to get my way at every turn. Elizabeth Cook was an easy call. No artist from the sunny side of the Cumberland has earned more respect for carrying on the traditions of twangy country and feisty southern womanhood. Her current recording Gospel Plow is an edgy devotional. Her previous triumph was the album Welder, with its AMA nominated slinky/naughty “El Camino” and the “Yes To Booty,” the best Don’t-Come-Home-A-Drinkin’ song since Loretta. If you have not read her personal liner notes to Welder, you must go there, as soon as you’ve finished this not-as-well-written-thing.
I am wildly excited to finally welcome Jon Byrd to our stage. This alt-country veteran came from Alabama and got his career going in Atlanta as part of the band Slim Chance And The Convicts. Nashville welcomed him in 2001, and he launched his own band in the middle of that decade. The deliberate and refined approach of his songwriting and delivery may remind you of Guy Clark – the easy command of his voice of Willie Nelson or Don Williams. Byrd’s career as a featured artist is late blooming, but I think he’s emerging as one of the greats of our music.
Kevin Gordon has been at it a few years longer, with four truly astonishing albums since 1998. During that stretch we’ve seen him featured on in-the-know lists like the Oxford American’s Southern Music Issue and land reviews like Rolling Stone’s nod for his newest Gloryland LP which called him “a juke-joint professor emeritus.” So low-key off stage and so intense behind his vintage electrified hollow-body guitar, Gordon brings what feels like a century’s worth of Deep South wisdom and spirit to his songs. They crackle with energy and vivid pictures. The newest triumph is the seven-minute epic “Colfax (Step In Time)” from Gloryland. You can’t care about songwriting in 2012 and not be all over this one.
Two more newcomers will grace the Roots stage. Though in the case of Dugas, the brother and sister that make up this Canadian transplanted duo have backed up others in the past. So we know their skill and their mesmerizing voices. I’m told their music together is stunning. And we’ll also welcome Jacob Jones, whose musical coming of age took place in Georgia and whose career began in New York. East Nashville-based since the very late 2000s, he’s impressed people widely with his gritty and soulful songwriting and artistry. He’ll be a great addition to the night we’re sure.
Everything begins of course Wednesday night at 7 pm. Come and keep the family reunion going. We’ll be extending our deepest thanks to you fans through the end of the season and this banner year.