When I was searching for my first place to live in Nashville in 1996, a lot of signs pointed East. Historic East Nashville was said to be a good place to find an affordable home in a quirky, developing neighborhood that was becoming an arts and music enclave – with a great view of the Nashville skyline to boot. So on an early house-hunting mission, I walked into the Radio Café at the corner of 14th St. and Woodland Ave. for the first time. Not only did I get a good breakfast, I met a guy who played drums with Steve Earle at the counter. I took this as a good omen. And once I moved into the ‘hood, there were many many great nights of music at the Radio, many of them by artists who lived right there in zip code 37206.
The Radio Café is gone, but the scene in East Nashville is stronger and more diverse than ever. You can’t visit the 3 Crow Bar or Bongo Java East without spotting talented songwriters, artists and producers. It’s home to historic Woodland Studios, now owned by Americana icons Gillian Welch and David Rawlings and Red Beet Records, the rootsy little label owned by Last Train Home veteran Eric Brace. Its lively venues now include the 5 Spot, with its rock scene and its amazing Wednesday night bluegrass/old-time jams, and the Family Wash, the cozy, twinkling pub where the community gathers to listen to superb music and eat tasty grub.
All of the acts on this week’s Music City Roots either live in East Nashville or have strong musical ties there. They are folks you’ll frequently see at the Family Wash, as performers and just hanging out. We had fun assembling this quartet of indigenous Nashville talent and if you haven’t already become a fan that you will after this broadcast.
Elizabeth Cook, with her pronounced Florida twang and sassy attitude was dubbed this generation’s Loretta Lynn by the great Nanci Griffith. Cook emerged early in the 2000s when she released her debut independent album and got invited repeatedly to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. Her deeply traditional country sound and glamorous presence earned her critical love in the US and Europe. A sojourn at Warner Bros. Nashville and a country record turned out to be yet another case of a major label failing to shoehorn a unique artist into the mostly vanilla lineup at country radio. Now Elizabeth is back in control of her own music and releasing quality recordings. The newest, Welder, actually comes out this week, and her much-anticipated Roots appearance is part of the celebration of getting this striking new album out on the streets.
We’ll also be treated to a set by the criminally under-appreciated Kevin Gordon, a songwriter in the John Hiatt/Sonny Landreth vein in that he’s Southern, literate and deeply soulful. Originally inspired by classic rock and roll and the regional sounds of his native North Louisiana, Gordon also embraces influences from country and the singer/songwriter canon. He’s had his songs recorded by Keith Richards, Levon Helm and Ronnie Hawkins, which gives you a sense of his authentic ties to the very essence of Americana. He’s a treasure and you’ll get to hear why.
We’re also excited to feature the amazing couple of Adam and Shannon, known as The Wrights. They came to Nashville from a base in Atlanta with an already honed twin-voiced country sound, and they’ve only deepened their appeal and repertoire since. They’ve been favorites of mine for years and it’s about time they played Roots. Finally, we’ll be hearing from the terrific Stephen Simmons, a troubadour with touches of Steve Earle and the Boss in his sincere, melodic sound. He’s been highly touted by the roots music press here and abroad, so he’ll bring a lot to our Vietti segment.
So if you haven’t been across the Cumberland River and caroused around the music scene, come get it in a one-stop-shopping sort of way at Roots. Eastside!