“Hip, Wry, Gifted”

Not my words. Nope. I draw my headline this week from NPR’s veteran arts correspondent Susan Stamberg talking about one of our featured performers this week, Susan Werner.

And gifted is nothing but the truth. Werner writes and performs on guitar and piano, playing the latter well enough to land a spot on Marian McPartland’s prestigious Piano Jazz show. She has a sunny, sharp, sweet and expressive voice that she controls like a master. And as a songwriter, she’s not content to merely let the muse hand her stuff. She gives herself challenges, adopting new schools and burrowing inside them with concentration. When she tackled the American standard style on her 2004 album I Can’t Be New, blending the craft of Porter, Kern and Gershwin with a modern feminine sensibility, she prompted her home town paper, The Chicago Tribune, to call her “the most innovative songwriter working today.”

So she works on the refined side of folk, displaying a grace that works in cabaret settings and hushed listening rooms. But Werner has enough Americana grain and song poet truth in her work to have made slavish fans of folks like Keb Mo and Mary Gauthier. The Folk Alliance convention named her Best Contemporary Folk Artist in 2008, and she clearly believes in paying her roots forward. “Traditions die when nobody updates them,” she says in her excellent on-line EPK. “I feel like part of my job is to pick up a tradition and drag it, kicking and screaming, by the hair, into the present.”

A gal after our own hearts.

Also up this week, a rocking set from the Jompson Brothers, featuring the staggering vocals of smash Nashville songwriter Chris Stapleton. You probably remember him from The Steeldrivers, the soul-infused bluegrass band that moved on after Chris’s departure with big-voice Gary Nichols. Anyway, it seems that what Stapleton really wanted to be in was a pile-driving Southern roots rock band. And that’s what the JB, with one album under their belt, get up to. We might have to get a smoke machine for this one.

Rounding out our typically varied bill, we’ll enjoy a return visit by Richmond VA old-time rave-up band The Hot Seats. They’ve got infectious energy and humor, but under the wackiness is a sincere commitment to traditional musicianship. And finally, watch for the country sugar of Dana Romanello. With one foot in bluegrass and other in today’s sounds, this former Titans cheerleader is now rooting for Americana music and her own burgeoning career.

Come see the gifts we have in store. It’s gonna be a great time.

Craig H

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