From Boston to Austin

Two music cities that could scarcely be more different in tone, history, climate, architecture or sound will shape Music City Roots this week. But that’s what’s grand about America and Americana. Boston is the epitome of the old Eastern fine arts, and it has a decades old bluegrass scene as well. Improbably, those spirits have come together through the music academies there – Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory – where pickers have gathered to learn the wily inner ways of music theory and produced a magical body of bands and work. Meanwhile, Austin is the Texas-sized Mecca for any just about any form of organic music built around guitars and songs. Mexican food’s better than Boston too. It never occurred to me before that these great cities rhymed. Somebody should write a song.

To get some fresh thoughts on the Boston scene – and how much of it has moved to or influenced Nashville – I called up Kyle “Bobcat” Tuttle, the banjo badass who’s leading one of two newgrass bands this week on Roots. Kyle, who grew up in North Georgia, was a guitar player and old time musician who evolved toward the banjo and who decided that studying music in depth at Berklee would be the fastest flight to the musical universe he wanted to inhabit. While he helped shape a new culture of deep roots music at Berklee, his studies and performing also put him in touch with the mentorship of his heroes, including Béla Fleck and Tony Trischka.

“Those guys understand jazz to some degree,” Kyle said. “I figured If I can wrap my head around the versatility of the jazz musician and what they know then I can handle most anything.”

Tuttle moved to Nashville in 2012, and we’ve seen him on Roots numerous times as a sideman since then, picking with Peter Rowan, The Danberrys and in his regular standing gig with Rebecca Frazier. In fact it was Rebecca’s husband John who gave Tuttle his nickname. Killing time and brain cells on a long van ride the best thing to do seemed to be to come up with band nicknames inspired by John “Cougar” Mellencamp. “Bobcat” is the only one that stuck Kyle says. But that’s fine because it became the title of Kyle’s solo debut album, which came out just a year ago. It’s a magnificent instrumental project with the finest young side musicians going today. If you love the lineage of Tony Rice, Sam Bush, etc. it ought to be in your collection.

Little surprise that Kyle is a picking pal of our show bill’s other newgrass standout. He told me that he met Jordan Tice when he was one of a bunch of smoking young guitar players living in a group house in Boston. Tice has quietly assembled a remarkable body of work. He was born into a bluegrass playing family in Maryland and emerged from music college as a diverse player who could play and compose in many styles, but bluegrass and new acoustic were his chief muses. Jordan made his first album at 17 and then soon was recording with the all-stars of his generation, including banjo prize winner Noam Pikelny and fiddler Casey Driessen. Tice’s 2011 project The Secret History is a flat-out masterpiece instrumental album blending acoustic guitar with upright bass and the shimmering sound of hammered dulcimer. This year Jordan released a songwriter driven album with wide ranging traditional sounds called Horse County, and that’s the name of the band he brings this week. It includes mandolinist Dominic Leslie who will also perform with Kyle Tuttle. So you’ll be seeing a virtual collective of America’s brightest young acoustic musicians.

As for the Austin side of the show, we’re truly excited to welcome back for a rocking, show-closing set the Band of Heathens. It’s been more than five years since they blew us away at the Loveless Barn with power and precision. Here’s what I wrote back then in March 2010. “Like The Band or Little Feat (common comparisons last night), B of H feels like a complete operation, a total integration of visions and voices. (The members) all write and sing and yet nobody dominates the stage or the ideas. The music is soulful Americana without baggage, colored with electric lap steel and churchy, grungy electric piano. In a word, brilliant.” This year the guys celebrated ten years as a band with a new Green Grass EP, a few killer cruise festival gigs and touring with the Drive By Truckers. A new feature length album called Duende (Spanish for a spirit of inspiration and passion) is coming in the winter.

Rounding out the bill is more amazing acoustic music from Adam and David Moss, a Brooklyn duo known as The Brother Brothers. I’ve not seen these guys but a strong reputation precedes them. I’ll quote our beloved artist Sarah Jarosz, who toured with them: “They approach their poignant and often charming songs with an almost startling sense of ease, and the tight harmonies are enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. Their ability to pull the listener into their quietly energetic musical journey is a joy to behold.” They wield guitar, cello, violin and banjo in an intimate duo. And yes, they’re twins.

So enjoy the show. It’s a one-way ticket to Baustin.

Craig H.

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