Some readers of this blog know that for the past year at my house we’ve been parenting a new member of our family and a new American: 12-year-old FongChong. And one of the many interesting parts of watching her adjust to her new life with us and in Music City is the music from my world that she latches on to. FongChong’s first Americana favorite was Jill Andrews singing “The Mirror,” which captivated her with its melody and bell-toned voice. But lately, her number one request has been “Flower Flower” from the new album by The Vespers.
How perfect, since we at Roots think of The Vespers as family as well. In their story, we can see all that’s positive and functional in the new Nashville music scene, the DIY music business and the Americana format. When they close our show this coming Wednesday night, at our season-opening Nature Conservancy special benefit show, there will stars in our eyes and pride in our hearts. Because our booking guy Todd Mayo can claim to have given the Vespers one of their first ever gigs. After that, it’s been skyward for this fascinating, delightful quartet.
It began when brothers Bruno and Tyler met sisters Callie and Phoebe at a bonfire party in 2008. They joined forces in a rocking band, but when their electric guitarist failed to make a rehearsal, the rest realized he was a fifth wheel and stripped their sound down to something more earthy and acoustic. The group landed a chance to play on the local NECAT-TV arts channel, and that’s where our man Todd saw them, bolstered in his high opinion by his little boy. Then after The Vespers links went up on our website, a serious booking agent out of Texas checked them out and cold called them to land their touring – before they’d even toured.
We loved their MCR set. Indeed it led to more shows with us, including a Live At The Station Inn appearance. When THAT show went up on NECAT just recently, Bruno relates with amazement that he got an email that night out of the blue from Americana icons Julie and Buddy Miller to say that they had been dazzled by their music and how could they help. What? This happens? See who’s sitting around watching NECAT?
Meanwhile, The Vespers played more than 100 shows in 26 states in 2011 and put on a fiery, moving performance at the Americana Music Assn. festival last Fall. During this stretch between album one and the new CD, musically gifted Callie adopted the banjo and mandolin, boosting the string quotient in the band. The girls’ stirring harmony singing that was always there got deeper, wilder and sleeker. The boys hold down a rhythm section that is delicate or driving, depending.
The Vespers proved the depth of their fan base with a very successful Kickstarter campaign that funded their new album, The Fourth Wall. “Flower Flower” is its brightest, poppiest tune, with a banjo-based reggae backbeat and a joyful chorus. Other highlights are “Instrument For You,” with its olde folke feel and its subtle declaration of faith. “Winter” is a reverb-drenched and beautiful album-closer. The sound slots right into the rising vibe of Mumford & Sons and etc. without sounding trendy. The attention these guys seem to draw with every appearance seems like the stirrings of something big.
Our other four acts this week will be new to me. I’m getting impressions on line and as usual, I’m impressed by the folks Todd and AJ have lined up for our stage. Gareth Dunlop is a young phenom from Northern Ireland with a penetrating voice and soul influences. With a bag of songwriting awards and awesome credentials from the UK, he looks a formidable artist. Jabe Beyer has been making pulse-quickening, rocking Americana for more than a decade and earned accolades and song placements on hot cable shows. His newest album finds him performing live at East Nashville’s Family Wash, and it sounds great. We’ll be treated to a set by Audrey Auld, a Tasmanian lass who’s been swapping between Nashville and LA for the last eight or so years. She’s a Merlefest song contest winner and a favorite among LA folk broadcasters. Her reputation precedes her. Finally, we’ll experience The Driftwood Singers, a male/female duo that keeps its music low-fi and old-world. Expect country as if from wax cylinders.
In other news, this season finds us welcoming a new sponsor, Nashville diamond innovators Star 129. We’ll be telling you more about them during the show. And the Vespers are playing a Tuesday night CD release show at Trevecca University, and we’ll be streaming it. So there’s gonna be sparkle all around.