The bittersweet night cap after last Wednesday’s show was the final episode of David Letterman’s Late Show, as the amazing, era-shaping comedian signed off after 33 years. Besides the deserved kudos for his innovative and brave approach to comedy and talk, there have been some great stories about Dave’s robust support for American roots music. More than twenty appearances by Emmylou Harris and championing Elizabeth Cook were just the tip of the iceberg. Many in our community got their first and sometimes only shot at national television thanks to Dave’s passion for great songwriting and musicianship – including bands he knew full well his fans would be hearing for the first time.
This winter, for example, you might have seen a band whose trio of guys up front wielded guitar, banjo and mandolin with a robust backing band of drums, keys and accordion. They did a whip-fast, wildly original song with rapid-fire repeating words in the verse and a power-pop chorus. The song was called “Kickin’ Da Leaves” and the band, Judah & The Lion, was from Nashville and making its way around some pretty big promotional stops in celebration of its debut album Kids These Days. Now they’re getting set to play Roots this week.
The three guys are Judah Akers of Tennessee, Nate Zuercher of Colorado and Brian Macdonald of Chicago. They met one another while students at Belmont University and found a common vision despite different backgrounds. Their vocal-driven neo folk has shades of MCR alums The Oh Hellos and Friends & Family, and there’s a pervasive sense of rejoicing. After beginning life as something of a Christian worship band, they embraced the broader, secular world and audience, while the passion remained in the sound. One of the guys cites Bach as a key inspiration, so that clarifies the aspirational and inspirational sides of the music too.
Kim Ruehl profiled the group for the Bluegrass Situation in 2013 writing: “Zuercher and MacDonald brought with them a shared interest in traditional Irish folk music, a fierce love of bluegrass, and interest in envelope-pushers like the Punch Brothers and Dropkick Murphys. If you listen closely, you hear all these things, rolled up along with Akers’ love for Bon Iver and Needtobreathe, behind lyrics that wrestle with largely universal themes: home and love, fear and strength, coming to terms with life’s uncertainties, and…yes, by the way, even faith.”
This should make for both a compliment and contrast in relation to our best-known artist of the evening, country star John Berry, an artist who trended toward Christian music (though not exclusively) in recent years, after his big run on the radio in the 1990s. He’s a Georgia guy who first got on stages playing country music in the college town of Athens (sounding I guess a little different from REM and the B-52s about the same time). He was backed by Nashville producing and recording icon Jimmy Bowen and his first album blew up with five charting singles and the No. 1, Grammy-nominated ballad “Your Love Amazes Me.” That record definitely tended to the soft side of a soft era, but a lot of the tracks in John’s catalog put him squarely in the Vince Gill style of pop country with bluesy roots. He told an interviewer a few years ago he was working personal favorite American songs into his shows like “City of New Orleans” and “Heart of Gold.” That’d be great to hear. And he’s rolled on his own terms, now with 25 albums and counting. He told Examiner.com: “I make my own records, do my own thing, and the only thing that matters is can I provide for my family by doing something I still love to do.”
We welcome Dave Eggar back to our show, though his prior appearance was in a fascinating duo with songwriter Amber Rubarth. Eggar is not your regular Americana dude. He’s a conservatory trained cellist who decided to take his chops to the world of rock and roll, where he’s been a go-to guy, backing The Who, Coldplay, Beyonce and many other famous names. I got to see him in action as a bandleader at a Scenic City Roots show in Chattanooga, and it was eclectic and funky, folky and rocking. He’s also a great brain with which to talk music, so we’re looking forward to the visit.
If you start chasing down praise and admiration for Kerri Powers you’ll find no shortage. The Massachusetts songwriter is being put forth by many in her area as the great undiscovered talent in folk/roots. An area blog wrote: “Ms. Powers has a powerful country-blues voice with an inimitable timbre, and her compositions display both a groundedness and a refreshing lack of pretension.” No Depression commented that her “supple vocals give (her) songs a cool caress, creating a quiet aura of authority and conviction only the most accomplished artists have the ability to attain.” She’s played the big folk festivals and toured with some big names. Her current album is a self-titled project that many are hoping will be a calling card for more.
So enjoy this week’s fare at the Factory as we trip through four very different styles. We’ll have you home in time for the late night show of your choice.