I’m a wallflower in recovery. When I was growing up you could have put me on the shy spectrum at about a 8 out of 10, or a couple clicks short of catatonic and nauseous around girls, or human beings near my age in general. I forced myself to go to a few school dances, but the feeling I got (and I think this is common) was a little like believing somebody was videotaping you and broadcasting your awkward moves all over the world. So now I’m all grown up I went to this dance on Wednesday night, and it turns out somebody was videotaping me and broadcasting my awkward moves all over the world. Thanks Jim Yockey, video crew and Music City Roots.
Seriously, we had our annual Barn Dance edition of Roots this week, and it was joyful and musically satisfying whether you shook your tail feathers or sat on ‘em. The Factory proved a fine dance hall, looking like a prom whose theme was “super-cool 21st century roots music radio show.” (That’s all the rage at the high schools this year I hear.) Yes, we missed the sundown light and air of the Loveless, but really the floor and sound and cavernous cool of Liberty Hall made an ambience so ideal that one of our newer staff members came up to me at the end and said “WHY DO WE ONLY DO THIS ONCE A YEAR??” Because, my friend, I couldn’t possibly come up with stuff to say about dancing more often than that.
We began with the blues and the Memphis based Ori Naftaly Band. What a character and story. He was born and raised in Israel, and he told us on stage that his dad was a music fanatic who got him into American blues and soul at a very early age. Imagine what a blast it was for him to come to Memphis and nearly win an international blues challenge. He’s set up now, with a tight band and a fantastic lead singer in Teirinni Jackson, who had range, power, finesse and emotion. It didn’t take her even a second to warm up either, as she delivered passionate blues from the opening minute. Meanwhile her 19-year-old sister smacked the drum kit like a seasoned pro, making a wonderful picture besides the wonderful sound. The most unique song of the set was “Envy” which had smart pop and hip-hop touches and a sharp jazz-inflected solo from Ori.
Blair Crimmins said he wrote like a conventional songwriter before finding his calling in hot retro jazz, swing and blues. In vest and tie he wielded a Johnny St. Cyr style banjo while ripping into opener “Mean Mean Man.” The next tune had a bossa nova kind of groove and heavy emphasis on the interwoven Dixieland counterpoint of three horns, including a snaky, exotic clarinet solo by Taylor Kennedy. “State Hotel” had a darker “St. James Infirmary” kind of feeling while “Oh Angela” was a rousing middle finger to an unfaithful ex with an audience call and response and jaunty rhythm made jauntier by wood block and cowbell. The dancers got going during the set, as Blair and the Hookers played with force and fire.
Then came the set I was going on and on about prior to the show, and yeah, I loved Feufollet. They’ve got a laid-back musical ease and their fusion of Cajun with Southern pop and country is just perfectly balanced. Singer Kelli Jones-Savoy has an insouciant cool and her voice has that keening Cajun edge mixed with a golden era Nashville sense of country music. “One Foot In My Door” is a bluesy lament to a guy who can’t commit. In “Tired Of Your Tears” she’s just over it and beating the sorry dude to a pulp. That’s the one I was saying last night Loretta Lynn should cover. It’s got twang and it says what we’ve all thought about somebody. Band founder Chris Stafford played electric guitar early and then moved to the accordion. He sang his own “Two Universes” which drew a good sized crowd waltzing around the floor. Then it was back to country Cajun snap with the lushly melodic “Red Light” and a traditional tune to end the set.
And then it was hip to be square as all the wallflowers in Liberty Hall suddenly discovered their inner tiny dancer and joined the lines on a PACKED floor. Gabe Kelly of the Hogslop String Band directed the troops into long lines and taught everyone tricky but doable square dances. The band pulsed and bowed and strummed up a whirlwind of energy. he bands pulled together for a fine bouncing version of “John Henry” in the Nashville Jam featuring an abundance of fiddles.
Smiles were everywhere. All seemed right with the universe. Maybe we should do this more often.