MCR’s Full Moon Feas

It’s very fitting Music City Roots takes place in the Loveless Barn, since a good MCR show is a lot like a good meal of fried chicken, greens and biscuits at the Loveless Café. You’ve got your sweet, your spicy, your fresh and wholesome and your guilty pleasures. And when it’s done, you are one satisfied customer.

This past Wednesday, with Nashville all thawed out under a full moon, The Barn was packed for another musical feast. The Folk Alliance’s gathering in Memphis was the theme of the week, which, given the dizzying variety of music under the “folk” umbrella, is as open-ended as it gets.

Musical host Peter Cooper started things off with a new song about that spring ritual of rebirth, Opening Day. Then it was game on, starting with former Nashvillian Kevin Welch. Backed by his son Dustin on resonator guitar and banjo and omni-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin on fiddle and accordion, Kevin’s understated Americana had an international flavor, with a song about Thailand’s “Andaman Sea,” from his new solo CD, A Patch of Blue Sky, and a tribute to the victims of Australia’s recent brush fires, “Marysville,” which he recorded as benefit project for them. (available at kevinwelch.com).

Kevin, a founder of the Americana movement, was followed by one of his youngest musical progeny, Dehlia Low, the Vietti Chili Emerging Artist of the week. Featuring sweet ‘n’ tangy harmonies from fiddler Anya Hinkle and guitarist Stacy Claude, the band’s short set had the drive of good bluegrass with Aaron Balance’s nimble dobro in place of banjo, but combined with a softer, varied melodic approach.

Then The Coal Porters’ British bluegrass invasion hit the stage. Led by roots-rocker/journalist/native Kentuckian Sid Griffin, the five-piece band put a witty, British music hall twist on the high lonesome sound.

The final two acts showed what Music City Roots does so well, shifting gears from a band focus to a showcase of very different, remarkably powerful singer-songwriters.

David Jacobs-Strain, returning to the MCR stage, uses acoustic Delta blues as a jumping-off point to create a new sound. A virtuoso fingerstyle guitarist with a powerful voice and an absolutely fearless stage presence, he once again rocked the barn. This guy is a rock star waiting to happen. If there was still a functioning music industry, David Jacobs-Strain would be playing arenas.

Headliner Ron Sexsmith led the way to the Loveless Jam with his far quieter, more nuanced approach to the singer-songwriter art. The veteran Canadian performer’s shy, self-effacing stage presence and vulnerable, openly emotional songs turned the Loveless Barn into an intimate listening room.

Then it was a Folk Alliance-style hootenanny for the night’s Loveless Jam, as host Cooper and the cast of performers sent the crowd on its way with the Carter Family classic, “Worried Man Blues.”

Larry Nager

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