The Farewell Drifters are getting set to release an album called Echo Boom, their third. The title stems from the fact that this buoyant energetic quintet of twentysomethings are the sons of Baby Boomers. And as singer/writer/guitarist Zach Bevill said on stage last night, the songs for the project seemed to coalesce around the theme of what they’d inherited and what they’d been left to find out on their own – the paradox of being raised with maybe too much freedom and infinite choices. Music always seems to find the right balance between inheritance and individual expression though. That’s one of the things I was feeling as I watched several generations of musicians on stage singing “Jambalaya” together during the Loveless Jam – the young guard and old guard fused into one. I was also marveling at what a great show it had been.
Veteran Wise Man Number One Larry Cordle kicked things off with rich angsty bluegrass and old-school country, including the dark, true-story title track from his very new CD Pud Marcum’s Hangin’. I wasn’t sure if he’d play his hits, but by gosh he did – crying into his beer on “Murder On Music Row” and painting that perfect open-road picture in “Highway 40 Blues” the breakout smash he wrote for Ricky Skaggs. Cordle always matches something to say with a seductive way to say it, and he’s never without a band of fine pickers. Last night’s band was highlighted by dobro man Randy Kohrs, and the whole thing made you feel like whatever’s happening on Music Row or elsewhere, country music is safe from harm.
Our Vietti artist Iodine was as striking as her name. The look was 80s retro punk fashion and the voice was a deep twang from East Tennessee. The music was trad country whirled up with the Velvet Underground and Rolling Stones. Towering and spiky, Iodine fronted a high-caliber band (guitar slinger Shawn Byrne and bassist Dave Roe among them) with poise and more important really solid songs. And in some inexplicable way, she paved the way for the Farewell Drifters set, with their bright harmonies and committed playing. The boys featured “We Go Together,” with its almost do-woppy vocals and a couple of other songs off the new album that floated in that Farewell Drifters kind of way. But it all seemed to be working up to “You Were There,” a highly arranged tune that launched with a gorgeous bass and violin duo and got really cooking with bold harmonies and a fevered jam section. This non-set-closing song evoked a HUGE response from the crowd and seemed to kick the whole night into overdrive.
Then the Drifters gave the stage back over to their elders, who rounded out the night with amazing variety and fealty to roots traditions. The great Jo-El Sonnier led a crack band through a set of his perfect honed hybrid of Cajun and country music. “Amadee Two Step” got things off to great start with a Louisiana road house funk, but my favorite was and always will be his cover of Richard Thompson’s “Tear Stained Letter.” What amazing insight to hear in that English writer’s rocker the makings of a Cajun/country classic, but that seems to be Sonnier’s way. He also offered up a rockin’ boogie version of “Johnny B Goode,” sung partly in French. Tres bien.
Closing duties fell to Wise Man Number Three. Like Cordle and Sonnier, the remarkable Buddy Greene has carved out a strong identity in Nashville over the years as a sideman, band leader, songwriter and song interpreter. ON his new album Harmonica Anthology, he dives deep into traditional and bluegrass fare, like his opening numbers last night – “Texas Gales” and “The Train That Carried My Girl From Town.” I know that latter song from Doc Watson’s repertoire and have always loved it. It was great to hear it done so well, especially with Bryan Sutton smacking away on old-time banjo. Buddy gives off immense charisma and love for the music, and he’s long been able to recruit stunning musicians to work with him. Besides Sutton, last night’s band was bass champ Byron House and accordion master Jeff Taylor. They evoked swoons with “Shenandoah” and made a bit of church happen with the set-closing “Rock In A Weary Land.”
“Jambalaya” made for the perfect benediction. A pure Cajun/country fusion and a song by a guy everyone considers a wiser elder, Hank Williams. It also made for a strong jam, with the two accordions and Buddy’s biting harmonica among the many outstanding soloists. For me the night had the perfect balance and blend. I’d see that lineup again any time.