After three weeks in a row of featured artists who were all dudes (these things fall by happenstance and scheduling more than design), it warmed our souls to hear female voices (and stunners at that) this week at Roots. As the Christmas trees and their starry lights made their first appearance in our entry hall at the Factory, a truly exceptional and captivating lineup took the stage and reminded us once again of the transcendental power of music. After several weeks of feeling out of sorts and disconnected, the show and the conversations before and after with such good people set my heart at ease and put me in a spirit to enjoy December. I hope it had that effect on you, whether in our smaller-than-usual audience or out there in radio/web land.
The first of those women was Brooke of Darin & Brooke Aldridge, who opened “Kingdom Come” with a clear and cutting note that needed no time to get warmed up or pitch perfect. The song became a rippling bluegrass gospel number that had the band, including her husband and musical partner Darin, clicking along like a well-tuned V-6 engine. Brooke’s voice really shone on the sweeping country classic “Someday Soon” right up and through its sky-high final chorus. The band closed with their bluegrass chart-topper “Tennessee Flat Top Box,” where Darin’s acoustic guitar really stretched out. They made a jam where you’d think a jam was not possible.
Discovery of the night (month, etc.) goes to Larissia Murphy. The singer/songwriter has been in town ten years, though she told me that she’s rambled through a lot of styles and approaches in her musical life. Whatever the case, it’s country music now, with a centered self-assurance that for me evoked a blend of Kelly Willis and Chrissie Hynde (Okay, the black leather jacket and haircut helped on the latter, but so does something about the way she owns her cool without acting all cool). Opener “Speak Your Mind” had a comfortable boot scooty twang. “Any Way” had a proud stompy beat and a yodel, while “Don’t You Know” was the moodiest tune and the most rounded vocal. But if you’re a radio station (ahem) you’d want to add the set’s final song “Cold Shoulder” because it’s an infectious, rocking update of Loretta’s “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’” that might make some of those infernal Nashville drivers speed the hell up.
That magical Music City Roots segue machine was in fine working order as it delivered the contrasting instrumental complexities of Chessboxer to the stage. The acoustic trio’s first tune had a fat, almost hip-hop undercurrent and a musical trickiness rating of three stars out of five. Plus it was called “Bacon,” which is one of those words that alters your neural chemistry and sense of self-fulfillment whether you want it to or not. So now I’m hungry and I’m enjoying the music. And I loved Ross Holmes’ fiddle pizzicato meeting Matt Menefee’s banjo harmonics on the Celtic melody of “Calon Lan,” which Ross said was Welsh for “not bacon” which is I’m sure a joke, but it made us think of bacon again. The precision and dedication of these classic instruments (including Royal Masat on bass) is just breathtaking to me, embracing what I cherish about classical music, jazz and bluegrass all in one tidy package. They really went to town on a five-star tricky piece with a name so long I’ll boil it down to “Calderbank” with extended forms and a mix of minimalism and maximalism. Bravo, bacon boys.
Under the circumstances, The Coal Men felt more like comfort food, with their gorgeous tones and tight roots rocking structures. Dave Coleman writes pop songs with the story quotient of country songs, so we got “Stones River” about old friends/mentors and a wintry outdoor setting. And “Willy Jett” is a portrait of the demise of a semi-loveable loser. Dave encouraged us to think of it like a little movie, and it was. More story in my favorite song on the new Pushed To The Side album in “The Singer From Louisville,” which channels a piece of Tommy Womack fiction that is drawn from hard experience. Guest host Peter Cooper worked with the Coal Men and other artists to pull together a really nice take on Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road,” which hasn’t been a Nashville Jam in years. Great call and a great job.
It was such a fun show (on schedule too!) that it was necessary to have a nightcap with some of the artists and crew at Kimbro’s where the menu includes a late night snack portion of mac and cheese with, wait for it, bacon. And as I noshed, I realized that we’re delivering the musical equivalent of bacon, without the unhealthy part, every week. See you back at the smokehouse soon.