When you think about it, a mandolin and a Rickenbacker 12-string electric guitar have some things in common. They both have pairs of strings that give them their jangly, chiming sound. And they both figured in the texture of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, those magic bands that built a bridge from Beatles pop to Golden Age country music. I was certainly thinking about this last night as Chris Hillman (a Byrd and a Burrito) used his mandolin to create the melodic introduction and spacey solos on “Eight Miles High,” in lieu of Roger McGuinn’s Rick. He and old compadre Herb Pedersen rendered an exceptionally full and fascinating take on the tune, and a bunch of other classic material besides. It was the capstone of a sensational night at the Loveless Barn.
Eric Brace and Peter Cooper, guys whose duo sound is deeply influenced by the careers of Hillman and Pedersen, couldn’t have been a better opener/bookend for this show. They even offered up their sensational take on “Wait A Minute,” a Herb Pedersen song. Of course, Peter and Eric were classy and aware enough to run it by Herb, just to make sure that one wasn’t already on the Hillman/Pedersen set list. The Red Beet Records duo also offered up a couple of holiday numbers. “Home For Christmas” came from the repertoire of Last Train Home, Eric’s long-running country band, while “Silent Night” was from the pen of Jon Byrd, an East Nashville musical icon, who after months of prodding FINALLY CAME TO THE FRIGGIN’ SHOW. (Great to see you Jon!) Another highlight was Tom Mason’s bluesy, snaky slide guitar jag on that OTHER “Silent Night,” which is apparently a rather popular Christmas carol.
Jennifer Nicely (I like to call her the Singing Adverb) did a superlative job in the second slot, offering her serene, midnight country pop. I love how she plays a quirky old electric guitar like it’s an acoustic folk instrument and I love the ease of her melodies. She told me that the last two years living back on her family farm near Knoxville have been good for her, but we do miss her here in Music City. Then our Christmas cup really ranneth over with Kristi Rose and Fats Kaplin. They’ve released a holiday album, and like everything else these guys do, it shows a lot of range and spirit and lets Fats play about every instrument in the book. He fiddled old-time style on “Breaking Up Christmas” and stroked the tenor guitar on “Come See The Baby.” Then he played the flattop with a flatpick on the bluegrassy “History.” I especially loved their last song, the haunting and lovely “Gold.”
Holy Ghost Tent Revival was next, and this is a band that does drama right. Their opening song sped and slowed, breathed and boogied. These guys tour so hard it’s difficult to imagine when they work out these elaborate arrangements. The soaring vocals of bass player Patrick Leslie and banjo player Stephen Murray give these guys a really sharp identifying sound. They belt but they keep it tight. And then there’s the energy. They stomp. They use dyNAMICS! Hank Widmer blasts it out on the trombone. But then, for their last number, Leslie, Murray and the keyboard player gathered around the mic and delivered an immensely cool a capella tune (apparently is still untitled) to a dead-quiet, transfixed audience. HGTR left us feeling, well, revived.
And that set up the final set with Hillman and Pedersen. Just two guys and two instruments. But they brought with them a staggering amount of distinguished history. And unlike some artists who are amazing for their legacy and presence but only so-so sounding, the H/P duo is just on fire. The soaring, sibling-worthy harmonies on “If I Could Only Win Your Love” and “I Hear A Voice Calling” were bracing and awe inspiring. They called up the Byrdsian fusion of folk and rock with “Turn Turn Turn,” and as I said, did brilliant acoustic things with the psychedelic rock tune “Eight Miles High.” That’s pretty much where I was left, especially after the final shambling Loveless Jam featuring “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”
Don’t forget to get excited about next week’s season-ending Christmas show!