Fine Is Awfully Good

Note: in Craig Havighurst’s absence, our friend Peter Cooper stepped in for this week’s show. Peter has performed on MCR before as a duo with Eric Brace, and he is an entertainment writer for the Tennessean.

Music City Roots’ affable regular Craig Havighurst was stuck in North Carolina, starring in a feature film or working in the tobacco fields or something or another. And so the right-thinking Roots folks called me Wednesday morning in desperation.

“Save us,” they pleaded. “We need someone to interview the musicians on tonight’s show, and because you yourself have performed admirably on Music City Roots in your unassailable musical duo with the great Eric Brace, we assume you to be a person of skill and intelligence. We are also impressed that you have two albums coming out this fall on Red Beet Records: a solo set called “The Lloyd Green Album” and an Eric Brace & Peter Cooper album called “Master Sessions.” At least that’s the way I remember it. I dunno. It was early in the morning, before my second pot of coffee.

I trudged down to the Loveless to help these poor people out. They met me at the door with gratitude, biscuits, barbecue and drink tickets. What a life! All I had to do was talk with talented, intelligent people I wanted to talk with anyway (I have in the past spoken to some of these musicians for FREE) and listen to a night’s worth of wondrous music. And that’s the thing, the music was great.

Jim Lauderdale, the evening’s host and the guy who convinced my wife to marry me (long story, not for here, and she wasn’t my wife at the time) opened the night with a jaunty Tommy Collins cover. For anyone unfamiliar with the genius of Tommy Collins, check this out: He was a hero of Merle Haggard’s, and his sense of humor and melody is right in line with Jim’s.

Tim O’Brien brought an all-star band for his set. O’Brien has been out on the road this year playing numerous stringed instruments in Mark Knopfler’s Band, and some contemporary country fans have become aware of him through his participation as a singer, songwriter and musician on Dierks Bentley’s new album. But the guy is at his best – which is pretty much anybody’s best – when he’s singing and playing his own songs. I loved hearing him do “Not Afraid O’ Dyin’,” a song that finds him adding melody to many of the lines his father spoke to him. Poignant, sad, funny, righteous.

Kenneth Brian was new to me, a fact which made me feel dumb for the non-finding. This guy rocks and roars in a way that dignifies Southern Rock, a medium that has suffered at the hands of imitators for far too long. Kenneth tours all the time, which is as it should be. People should hear this stuff.

None of the other folks were new to me, but all were fine by me. More than fine, truly, and fine is awfully good. Matt King is a renegade rooted in tradition. He’s so smart, so good, and he was made for these times even if these times haven’t yet been convinced. Jeff & Vida offered up tremendous musicianship and pleasing harmonies and superb songs. Three different people tugged at me backstage and said, “I can’t believe how good they are.” And Bobby Bare Jr. brought a stage – full of tremendous players out, and he gave us a set that linked country to folk to punk to all the rootsy things that trip my monkey-nerve.

Best, of course, were the interviews. But you knew that already.

Peter Cooper

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