I may have to go to the video for confirmation. But I believe Jason D. Williams was wearing pink toenail polish on Wednesday night at Roots. While The Barefoot Movement padded on stage with their toes intentionally exposed and I was sitting with Jason D. on stage waiting for our interview to start, he got one of those non-ignorable itches deep inside one of his fantastic, two-tone cowboy boots. So there in the chat room he stripped his foot down and took care of the irritation before our cue for the interview. The boot was back on before I could do the back half of my double take. But did you see it? Pink toes? He’s a man of unplumbed depths and mysteries.
It was a night of happy feet all around with five distinct styles of country music delivered in all manner of sartorial style, from boots to bare feet to Julie Roberts’s black dress and high heels in our opening set. She’s a put together woman that Julie Roberts. Poised and raised for the stage, she classed up our barn, strolling with assurance that comes from experience, and from having a cannon of a voice. With a simple but effective three-piece band, she opened with a snappy, country “No Way Out” then dove into edgier stuff with Buddy Miller’s “Gasoline And Matches.” Her album’s title track “Good Wine And Bad Decisions” was sexy as could be, partly because of Robert’s sultry and silky alto and partly because, well, it’s about sex. The set closer was “Break Down Here,” a well-written, big hit country single of ten years ago that has and will stand the test of time.
We should all take off our shoes and join The Barefoot Movement, because after a lot of hard work they have really put it together as a band. They’re an all-around-one-mic old-time group with a new gen outlook, great song sense and quartet chemistry. On “My Little Darling” guitarist Alex Conerly and fiddler Noah Wall sang in sweet close harmony the whole way, while Tommy Norris laid on a powerful mandolin solo. Their romantic ballad “Second Time Around” swayed like tall grass and filled the room with rich voices. And Noah’s fiddle was the star of the very fast and energetic “Shuckin’ The Brush.” We need more of that rad trad sound on the show, and this really scratched that itch.
With the Drive By Truckers in her rear view mirror, Shonna Tucker’s new band pares away some of the jagged edges and hard rocking volume of her former ensemble while dialing up the country yearning and the Southern pop feel that seems indigenous to their adopted home in Athens, GA. The steady pulse of “Since Jimmy Came” took me back to my high school days loving R.E.M. and Pylon, while Shonna’s straightforward and clear voice cut through with something very fresh and contemporary. Her twang lines really showed on “Linda Please” with its train beat and big rolling pedal steel solo and on melancholy closer “Lonely People” with its deep alt-country swell. The band is called Eye Candy, and they were some good lookin’ people, but when you see them out and about, it’s your ears that will be sweetened.
Then things got really front-porch as Willie Sugarcapps took the stage. Rambling, loose and sweet, this is one of those bands you should hold up the next time somebody asks you ‘what is Americana?’ Not only is their music a new expression of the deep South country blues and folk idiom, they explicitly take advantage of the talents and ideas of everybody involved. The opening song, named for the very band singing it, features a true ensemble chorus with stacked, ascending harmonies, with Grayson Capps taking charge of the story in his deeeeep voice. Then Savana Lee earned some mid-set standing ovations for her lead on the lovely, soaring “Colorado.” Her partner in Sugarcane Jane Mr. Anthony Crawford steered the fantastic “Energy” and Will Kimbrough, while ripping it up on a beat-up, rustic mandolin, offered the front voice on the loose and celebratory “Mr. Lee” about a man’s 93rd birthday. Grayson and Will were super in the interview room as well, offering a vivid picture of the South Alabama terrain that gave this band its personnel and its sound.
Jason D. Williams kept his boots on for his rambunctious set and he even put on a white cowboy hat to go with his western shirt. His upcoming album is called Hillbillies & Holy Rollers, so maybe he’s taking a country turn. His music on Wednesday night had some of that, but even when he played “Folsom Prison Blues” it was a rolling boogie woogie – the vintage rock and roll sound we anticipate from Jason D. He got folks dancing in the back, and his take on “My Gal Is Red Hot” featured his patented drum stick solo on his piano and the ceremonial kicking-over-of-the-piano-bench. The only visible toes were those of Jason D’s sidemen, because he takes so many turns and stops and unplanned segues, they had to stay on their toes the whole time. Watching him lead and them follow is one of the many joys of a Jason D. set.
And then Jim Lauderdale pulled the gang together, finding space around Jason’s piano, and led a joyful “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The many feet that had made it to the Loveless danced or just tapped along.