Lucky Us

As soon as I heard that voice singing Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings” with its aerodynamic, rising melody I was in a familiar and contented place. It’s track two among twelve on Lucky, the new all-Haggard Suzy Bogguss album, and I’m not sure why I started listening there. Perhaps I felt that this was going to be a perfect A&R match of singer and song. I can say this: If you were searching for a poetic, two-word description of Suzy Bogguss as a vocalist, I’d say ‘silver wings’ is pretty apt. She has a glow and an uplifting quality that’s instantly recognizable. Her early albums were part of my country music education, and even in a late 80s field crowded with authentic talent, her voice stood out for its sweetness and light. I’ve loved her as an artist ever since and I’m excited as can be that she’s returning to Roots this Wednesday, just one day after the official release of this beautiful new album.

Suzy Bogguss is part of a night when you could wear your boots and western shirts to the Loveless and feel right at home. Because we’re also featuring America’s corniest canniest cowpokes, Riders in the Sky. In between we’ll hear from the satirical songwriting alter ego of the Riders’ bass player Too Slim, who goes by the suspiciously real name of Freddy LaBour, plus a young Minnesota songwriter named John Mark Nelson who’s been compared to Andrew Bird, plus Nashville’s master of the modern-day mothership of funky soul, Space Capone. The Nashville Scene tapped this one for a critic’s pick and gave us credit for a “diverse” bill. Yeah, man. That’s how we do it in Pasquo, TN.

Bogguss maintains that Lucky is not a tribute album, – more like a wave she caught. When you start looking for great songs and your ear falls on the Haggard catalog, there’s no end to the quality and variety. And the fact that Suzy had her first hit with Haggard’s “Somewhere Between” 25 years ago adds a certain homecoming quality to the project as well. Her band included friends of ours like Pat Bergeson on guitar, Charlie Chadwick on bass and Chris Scruggs on steel guitar. They conjure a jazzily spacious feeling. The album opens with Charles Treadway’s cooing Hammond organ, a sound you’d never place in a honky-tonk. But when it becomes the harmonic bed for “Today I Started Loving You Again” you wonder how the song could have been recorded any better. “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” swings with a slow rock – as in chair, not ‘and roll’. “Let’s Chase Each Other Round The Room Tonight” is light, danceable and sexy. While “Sing Me Back Home,” with a lonesome dobro line, conjures the story of a doomed prisoner with sensitivity but not sentimentality.

In an interview with American Songwriter, Suzy reports that the great Mr. Haggard himself had a most gratifying and emotional reaction to the project. He said: “I’ve been looking for some new ways to play these songs, and you’ve done such a good job changing them up.”

Suzy will open the show, and if you’re looking for subtlety and sublimity you’d best be in your seats early. Because the latter half of the night is going to be more of a hoot. Space Capone is beloved by Nashville’s club rats seeking a big danceable time. Music City is enjoying a soul revival today, but really it was this frontman-plus-collective that ignited the fire years ago with a sound that balances P-Funk, Prince and disco. Less rootsy than our usual fare, we learned last fall at our sister event in Chattanooga that Space Capone fits well in our idea of authentic and organic music from today’s Nashville.

Riders in the Sky are as close to an act needing no introduction as we’ve ever had visit Roots. They are globe-trotting, range-riding, side-splitting and Grammy-winning entertainers who’ve done American music a wonderful favor by blending a nearly-lost tradition (Western music) with clever humor, a show-biz ethos and stellar musicianship. Let that last fact never be lost on folks. Ranger Doug is a master rhythm guitarist who knows his chord vocabulary inside and out, while fiddler Woody Paul provides more lead than should be possible from one man. The addition of Joey, the CowPolka King some years back as a full-time Rider was a master-stroke, because as I’ve said for years, you can always improve a band with a good accordion player. The deal-sealer of course is their ensemble singing, with pristine arrangements and Doug’s peerless yodeling. Launched in 1977 as a lark, it became a phenomenon that’s delighted kids of all ages around the world. We’re lucky to have them coming over to swing us into the sunset.

Craig H.

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