Freedom Sings

Your correspondent has returned from a needed vacation, complete with sand, surf and burgers and beer on the Fourth of July. We at Roots hope you enjoyed your Independence Day as much as we did and that you’re rested and ready for the free-thinking, ultra-independent artists featured in our sweltering summer season. It all begins this week with another benefit for The Nature Conservancy featuring a troika of Americana superstars.

In no particular order, let’s start with Bill Lloyd, because he picks up where our last show left off – in Nashville roots/pop territory. There’s no room for this artist’s amazing resume in full, so here it is in selective short-hand: partner in the influential and hit-making country duo Foster & Lloyd; sideman and collaborator with rock royalty like Cheap Trick, Marshall Crenshaw and Ray Davies; songwriter with work recorded by Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride and others; former curator of stringed instruments at the Country Music Hall of Fame and creator of its long-running “Nashville Cats” series; founder and leader of the wildly popular Long Players (Nashville’s full-album cover band) AND long-running solo pop/rock cult icon. Musically, Bill Lloyd is on a roll. Last year saw his reunion with Radney Foster and the first new Foster & Lloyd album in forever. This year, Lloyd reminded us of his prowess with Boy King of Tokyo, his first solo album since 2004. Its bright, smart and energetic sound is both classic Lloyd and a breakthrough to even greater levels of depth and sustenance.

Farther over in country territory, we’re excited to welcome for the first time the elegant and sublime Laura Cantrell. Raised in Nashville, of all places, she took her youthful fascination with classic country music to New York City years ago where she attended Columbia and then juggled a big-time banking job with performing and writing and hosting a popular vintage country radio show. To know Laura is to love her, as the late great BBC DJ John Peel discovered when her 2000 debut album Not The Tremblin’ Kind came out. He declared it one of his favorite albums of all time, and he had her visit his influential show repeatedly. Laura has built an impressive body of work on the strength of richly narrative songwriting and a crystalline, vulnerable voice. It’s completely unique but universal as well, and deeply in touch with the truth-telling country music of yore. Thus the effectiveness of her most recent CD, a collection of songs originally performed by or inspired by her heroine, the legendary Kitty Wells. Cantrell makes ‘who’s gonna fill their shoes?’ a non-rhetorical question.

If there is a spectrum between pop/rock and country music, then Kim Richey might be pegged somewhere between Lloyd and Cantrell. And yet she’s in a class by herself. I clearly remember hearing her music for the first time – at a listening station in New York’s Virgin Megastore back when her debut, self-titled album was new on Mercury Nashville in 1995. The glorious guitars and cracking percussion of “Those Words We Said” came through the headphones, followed by that clean, crisp voice, and I thought, ‘Oh yes, this is perfect.’ I’ve been there for every release since, carrying with me songs that touched every nerve I have for beauty and sonic rapture: “I’m Alright” from Bitter Sweet, “The Way It Never Was” from the complex Glimmer, and “This Love” from the soaring Rise album. Most recent is the lovely and intimate Wreck Your Wheels album with its standouts like “Careful How You Go.” It was so good to hear that soothing voice and song sense again. We used to get to see Kim perform a lot in Nashville, and she was always as rarified in her musical execution as she was down-to-earth in her conversational stage presence. But she’s lived a lot of her life in London in recent years with fewer Music City dates on her tour schedule, so I’m looking forward to her show-opening appearance at Roots this week as anything this season.

And the season ahead is looking pretty awesome. There’s a Southern jam band celebration with the inimitable Col. Bruce Hampton. Drivin N Cryin makes up the date they had to cancel last season. We return to Guitar Night with Guthrie Trapp and friends. The buzzed-about Packway Handle Band makes a Roots debut, and we welcome back the astonishing Malcolm Holcombe. Also, after a lot of trying, we’ll experience a performance by the divine Kathy Mattea. Artists like these are truly why I love this country and its music. I hope you’ll pledge allegiance with us all summer long.

Craig H.

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