Thanksgiving comes but once a year, and between the frenetic pace of Fall and our go-go culture, it’s important not to let this special holiday sneak up and fly by. While the commercial world obsesses over Christmas and the news feels like a fire hose of awful, we need more than ever to pause and recognize the grace of family, friends and the bonds made by our giving and our gratitude. I’m fortunate and grateful that my clan is again travelling in from North Carolina and West Virginia (and Goodlettsville) to gather round our table on Thursday. They will also be in the audience for this year’s T’giving Eve show, a night we cherish at Roots. It’s a tradition, yet this year we’ve shuffled things around and invited an all-new lineup to perform. Curated by our own Ms. Laurie, it’s a night of Southern soul and country rock – the musical equivalent of Monell’s corn pudding and fried chicken.
Two veteran acts with origins in the 1970s will grace our stage for the first time. I definitely remember The Amazing Rhythm Aces on the air with “Third Rate Romance” from around the time I got my own FM radio as a kid. The single holds up nicely, and it was great to revisit that Stacked Deck album from 1975 and discover its organic sound, its slide guitar and its smart lyrics. Less aggressive than the Allman Brothers, the ARA’s were the Southeast’s answer to the Eagles. Looking into the history of the band, it was interesting to me that its leader Russell Smith developed his music career in all three Tennessee music districts – first Knoxville , then Memphis (where they made Stacked Deck at the Sam Phillips Recording Studio) and Nashville, where Smith became a successful songwriter. I can’t think of any other artist who’s made the Tennessee trifecta like that. The Aces disbanded in 1981 and reformed in the mid 1990s. They keep it rolling today in the spirit of Delbert McClinton and Gary Nicholson, artists with whom they’ve co-written songs.
Similarly situated is gravel-voiced, harmonica blowing Jimmy Hall, who landed on the American radar in the 70s as front man for the band Wet Willie out of Mobile, AL. They did numerous albums for the legendary Capricorn Records and Epic, and never officially disbanded. Hall however jaunted off as a vocalist and sideman with guitar superstar Jeff Beck, with whom he still tours. He’s also been bandleader and singer with Hank Williams Jr. since the 1980s. And as a songwriter he’s had success with the Gregg Allman, the Marshall Tucker Band and (how about that) The Amazing Rhythm Aces. So the family ties here are appropriate to the evening.
A generation or two away but plowing some of the same Southern soil is friend of the show Sam Lewis. On his previous visits he charmed and eased our souls with songs from his 2012 debut album. Then this past April he launched Waiting On You with a masterstroke of releasing 12 live video performances of the album’s songs to 12 different roots music outlets simultaneously. With musician and guest vocalist appearances by Darrell Scott, Mickey Raphael, Will Kimbrough, the McCrary Sisters and the album’s producer Oliver Wood, Smith shows his exquisite taste in collaborators and the respect that Nashville’s finest has shown him in his still nascent career. No Depression called it “really impressive stuff” and we agree. Sam’s a smooth character with no pretentions and a mellifluous, expressive voice that will lower your blood pressure.
Also returning and channeling sounds and feels of an earlier era is Kim Logan. When she debuted on Roots exactly a year ago, I praised her “retro/mod” attitude and noted that “The East Nashville singer is schooled in high opera and down home soul, and she’s as likely to bust out crafty covers as originals. And her originals, like the Bo Diddley beat opener “Lolita” sound like they’ve been on shelves since the 60s.” She recently played the career-building CMJ convention in New York and she’s working away on a second album. It’ll be great to have her back.
So pray for those suffering and displaced. Hug your loved ones. Enjoy the music and know that we are most thankful for y’all.