High Water Marks

The Mississippi RIver, the great waterway of our nation, which has given the South so much fertile land, so much music and so much heartache, is swollen like it hasn’t been since Robert Johnson was the hot new thing. It’s topping levees and swamping homes. Our hearts go out to the folks in Mississippi and Louisiana who’ve moved to higher ground, leaving land and property behind to the forces of chance and nature.

Between these current events and the recent anniversary of Nashville’s historic floods of 2010 and the fact that our final act last night was called Highwater, I guess such thoughts were inevitable. Fortunately there’s another meaning to the phrase, when we use high water mark to mean a new benchmark for something that exceeded our expectations. And we set a few last night at Roots I think – for consistency and flow, for good vibes in the barn and in Highwater’s case, wicked funky grooves. More on that in a moment.

I knew the night would start strong because I’d seen Patrick Sweany perform at the Americana conference and heard his records. He’s got an assuredness on stage that borders on swagger, but he’s also got a built in sense of respect for the music and his audience that keeps him from reaching that tipping point. He finds the potent sweet spot. His song “Shoestring” had a propulsive thrum and a melody that wrapped around it perfectly. “The Same Thing” was a slower 6/8 soul ballad that showed off his rich, rough voice. The second half of the set rocked harder. He’s a superb guitarist and he brought a kicking three-piece band of Nashville cats. It was core curriculum Southern American blues rock, and I’ll be really interested to watch Sweany in the years to come.

The evening turned country and quirky with appearances from Jimbo Darville and Jonny Corndawg. Darville, resplendent in a thrift store cowboy suit and wearing chrome mud flap girls on his hat AND guitar, led his large twangy band through a set of trucker songs, but that’s what you do when your band is called The Truckadours. I liked “Piece of the Road” a lot, because it’s shaky snaky beat proved all trucker country doesn’t have to sound alike. Then our old pal Corndawg played a really nice set of songs full of his unique humor and heart. His wonderful fiddler gave the performance a Cajun vibe. And Jonny left everyone quite happy, as he does. Congrats to JC on his feature in American Songwriter and a general rise in his buzz that sounds about ready to compete with the cicadas.

I’m always impressed with the sequence of our shows, something achieved largely in the capacious mind of our co-producer Todd Mayo. There’s almost always a logic to it, and last night kept evolving in a very smart way. Big Daddy Love upped the energy level with its wonderful jammy Appalachian rock. Their new drummer gave them some extra crackle, and I’d forgotten how good lead guitarist Joey is. The electrified banjo rippled along in “Circle Around The Sun” which sounded like a freight train accelerating. And that segued perfectly into Highwater, a band with rich history in Nashville. I should have known more about them, but bass player Nick Govrik told me they’ve played very little in recent years. Couldn’t tell it by their set though; these guys were not rusty. With a tight two-man horn section and keys rounding out the bass/drum/guitar core, they were a party band with taste and soul. Somebody said they were Mike Farris’s favorite band for years, which might give you a hint. Nick’s bass lines were liquid smooth funk and the songs were strong. “Hundred Dollar Bill” was a shake-your-tailfeathers strut, and “Ready To Go” got explicitly New Orleans on us. “Cross Country Blues” was built on icy slide guitar from Lewis Stubbs and sounded like a lost Black Crowes song.

The Loveless Jam came off great – one of the best in weeks – as the assembled brethren traded verses and licks on “Six Days On The Road.” Jim Lauderdale led the gang, and it was great to have him back after last week’s airline snafu. It seems come hell or high water, we’ll have a good time.

Craig H

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