Honky Tonk, Front Porch, Arena

Review by guest host and interview guy Jon Weisberger

Historians can and do debate the circumstances under which rock and roll was born, but there’s no debating the fact that modern-day rockers who capture the excitement of that initial blast are rootsy as all get-out, nor that said beginning was propelled by a mix that included plenty of blues and hillbilly progenitors. This week’s show covered a couple of bases with Sunny Sweeney’s nothing-but brand of country and Bella Hardy’s evocative British folk, then took a turn into the front porch blues shouting of Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band before landing in Blackfoot Gypsies’ primal rock and roll. Lineages notwithstanding, it was roots everywhere you looked.

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Opener Sunny Sweeney played the Grand Ole Opry Tuesday night. It was her 49th appearance, she noted as she cheerfully invited the audience to join her at her 50th— and with a new release like Trophy in hand, that’s sure to come sooner rather than later. Kicking off with the wryly knowing “Better Bad Idea,” she and a tight band chugged through nearly half of the new album, including the gorgeously wistful “Bottle By The Bed,” before winding up with an older favorite, “Bad Girl Phase.” It was her first time on our show, but she’ll be back.

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“Folk” is a tough term these days, but Bella Hardy’s music sits near its center nonetheless. Named BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer Of The Year in 2014, the British native served up some spare, essential readings from across her catalog, from “The Herring Girl” to the new (and “a bit racy”) “One Day At A Time,” with guitarist Cy Winstanley serving as a tasteful foil. Hardy’s songs drew a neat line from the “ancient tones” of Celtic fiddling through the narrative twists of art song and on into the broad vistas of today’s, well, folk music.

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Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band has been with us before, and it was clear that this night’s audience knew what to expect. “This is about how I got good,” the Rev. declared before launching into “Front Porch Trained,” and he wasn’t kidding. Keeping it down home all the way, the trio gave commercial savvy short shrift by keeping less than half the set devoted to showcasing their brand new release, Front Porch Sessions, while teeing up the evening’s end by dishing out a blistering “Bean Blossom Boogie.”

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By the time they took the stage, Blackfoot Gypsies had a pretty good idea of what to bring. They may have stuck to the program with a set drawn wholly from their brand new To The Top (from roots-friendly Plowboy Records), but as much energy as there is on the album, it was doubled this night. Frontman Matthew Paige couldn’t stand still, drummer Zack Murphy couldn’t sit still, and the expanded lineup (including bassist Dylan Whitlow and harp man Ollie Dogg) egged them on without mercy.

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WEDNESDAY, JULY 12TH

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Hosted By Jim Lauderdale

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