From upper left: Jesse Kramer, Cody Jinks, Colin Hay, Old Salt Union, Peter Case.
What do a Scottish-born Australian pop rock star of the 1980s and a bearded former thrash metal singer who now plays hard country music have in common? Just about nothing, except that both are scheduled to play Music City Roots this week, and we take a lot of pride in that diversity. Colin Hay, veteran of Men At Work and now an acclaimed songwriter/solo artist, and Cody Jinks, a rising star of Americana twang, will make for that ideal textural contrast that makes everything taste and sound better. Plus three other bands on a rare five-artist night promise a show with a full house, a lot of energy and memories you’ll carry through this year. It would be hard to top last week’s season opener with the Travelin’ McCourys. But this lineup gives us the courage to imagine it.
I love how this job prods me, nay, kicks me in the butt, to get my head and ears around great artists who might otherwise elude me in the maelstrom of quality that is today’s Americana scene. Thus have I had my reckoning this week with Cody Jinks, hard core troubadour from Denton, Texas. His emergence adds further momentum to a refreshing trend in Americana from stompy acoustic to traditional honky tonk. In this case, it’s coming form a guy who once put out an album called The Massacre Begins as part of the band Unchecked Aggression. But hey, we’ve seen this movie: young man is raised on country, plunges into punk or hard rock as a teen and returns like the prodigal son. Jinks has released four country albums since 2010, culminating in 2016’s I’m Not The Devil, a tightly arranged and beautifully sung/written CD that could have produced hits on radio circa 1994. It sold more than 11,000 copies in its first week, and Saving Country Music made the project its Album of the Year. They write: “Yet here was Cody Jinks, unflinchingly and stern faced presenting an album that so unmercilessly relied on the most potent of country textures—the ones that stimulate those positive chemical reactions in the brain of true country music fans with stories of heartbreak and sorrow that they can pry open the stone edifices surrounding the souls of even the most Stoic listeners.” Cody will depart from Roots and head to the West Coast where he’ll make his late night TV debut on Conan, followed by a show (already sold out) at LA’s legendary Troubadour. This gentleman is set to have a big year.
Colin Hay is a mercurial figure and a true life-long artist whose early blockbuster success had upsides and downsides, putting him on the map but also forcing him to reinvent. If you’d asked me ten years ago what were the chances that the singer of “Land Down Under” from those early MTV days would reappear as a folk pop singer songwriter on roots/world label Compass Records, I’d have looked at you with a puzzled expression. But Mr. Hay has reintroduced himself to his global audience through the Nashville label, and its owners Gary and Alison, have truly championed this man’s talents. In an interview in 2015 you can hear an artist reconciling those early years when massive hits made the path easy and obvious to more recent chapters, when he’s had to tour and record on today’s massive, crowded, level playing field. He’s taking inspiration from it: “People know that the music is getting better, that I’m trying to make better records. And I think that they are better records. And [fans] recognize that. So, in a sense, you’re kind of travelling along this road with people. It’s a direct relationship, which is quite… almost conspiratorial.” We’ll get to be his co-conspirators this week as he previews music from Fierce Mercy, his 13th solo album, coming in early March. Compass says the project is “an epic and cinematic step forward” for Hay, distinguished by “a palette of pop songcraft, Americana flourishes, and soundtrack-ready strings.”
We have a couple of returning artists to Roots this week, and I’m certainly excited about seeing Peter Case again. This weekend I saw and interviewed Alejandro Escovedo, which was a chance to reflect on the fervent, colorful roots rock scene of the 1980s. Case is just a bit younger than Alejandro, but his bands The Nerves and The Plimsouls helped electrify the same era as Escovedo’s proto-Americana project Rank & File. By the time Case went solo, his talents had earned him entrée into the world of T Bone Burnett who produced Case’s superb 1986 self titled solo debut. As I noted in my 2015 journal entry, it was the 1994 disc Peter Case Sings Like Hell that made me a perma-fan. In general, few songwriter/artists have so effortlessly amalgamated traditional folk music, blues, soul and American rock and roll. Today, Case is a mesmerizing solo acoustic performer who tells smart and necessary social truths and amplifies stories of vivid characters. I’m eager to catch up with him and his news, but I can pass on that he does have a new website!
Also swinging back through is Illinois-based, progressive acoustic quintet Old Salt Union. As I related back in January of 2015, “Five men with five beards wearing five pairs of jeans with five loosely tied ties took the stage next and started shaking it newgrass style with friendly grooves and exuberant vocals.” In recent months the band played FreshGrass, announced a new band member and got an invite to play the prestigious Northwest String Summit. These guys bring a sense of invention to every tune, throwing in touches that make the jazzbo in me happy while enjoying a bluegrass show.
Rounding out this extra-large lineup is young Indianapolis native Jesse Kramer, a songwriter who’s been bopping around the Southeast, including venues like WDVX’s Blue Plate Special and Song of the Mountains. I’ve not had the pleasure, so I’ll relate Jesse’s own info: “Unlike the millennials of his generation, Jesse has a deep affection for the Mississippi Delta blues sound. Take those soulful delta blues and combine that with two of his modern day heroes where he derives the rest of his musical influence from, Amos Lee and Chris Stapleton.” Bring it on then.
We combine the uncombinable and reconcile the unreconcilable every week. I plan on seeing you in Liberty Hall for another attraction of opposites on 1.18.