Sometimes I get these show rosters handed to me (delivered by a messenger monkey carrying a locked briefcase) and I just stand in slack-jawed amazement. How does the booking team (working out of a hidden chamber beneath the Volcano Room in Cumberland Caverns) achieve such quality, such balance, such diversity and such skin-tingling prospects? The committee must have ears as big as dinner plates. They hear all and know all. And this Wednesday, you’ll find they’ve done it again, with a bluegrass premiere by our own Jim Lauderdale and a range of supremely interesting artists from across the roots spectrum.
You know Jim of course. Roots owes its special character in large part to the special character of this insightful artist and funny guy. We love him like family, and I think almost any fan of Americana music feels the same way. Besides being terrific, Jim is the definition of prolific. He’s released at least an album a year, every year, since 1994. And he’s got several albums in the can waiting to be released! And if that meant thin quality or albums with filler, well he wouldn’t be Jim Lauderdale. He’s just about peerless in modern roots music for consistency and productivity. The newest project, released in late September, is Carolina Moonrise, a bluegrass album made with old colleague Randy Kohrs and featuring the latest in a run of songs co-written with the great Robert Hunter. It’s a match that just keeps working.
Then on this night of nothing but the honey (see Stubbs, Eddie for derivation), we’ll enjoy a Roots debut by The Honeycutters, the duo of singer/songwriter Amanda Anne Platt and guitarist/producer Peter James. Beloved in their hometown of Asheville, NC, they’ve been named favorite Americana band in the on-the-ball Mountain Express magazine and wowed the programmers at WNCW. Platt has that area’s biggest songwriting prize (the Chris Austin award at Merlefest) under her belt, and James is a prolific musician who relocated to western NC from New Hampshire in 2006. The Honeycutters released their first music only 3-4 years ago, but their new album When Bitter Met Sweet is proof that as long as they hang together, they’ll be a force.
Also new to the show will be The Blue Dogs, Charleston, SC’s alt-country veterans. Twenty years in the game they are, and seemingly rolling along as strong as ever. It’s a sound that will remind our fans of Big Daddy Love or The Coalmen, drawing equally from Buck Owens, Ben Harper and the Beatles. The energy and passion are always high, and while I could quote you some critics who love these guys, I’d rather quote the great Beatle Bob, dancing roots music super-fan, who calls them on their website “a whiz-bang melding of roots-rock rumble, bluegrass chicanery, and honky-tonk reverence.”
And then, my heavens, we’re also going to welcome back one of the most interesting and authentic purveyors of southern roots and boogie blues we know, the inimitable Jimbo Mathus. I love an artist who can sum up his music in a pithy phrase that transcends the usual pained pairings of sub-genres and historic markers. So when I saw that Jimbo touts his sound as “catfish music for the masses” I laughed my whiskers off. Truth is, Mathus has been magnificently unpredictable for his entire career, which stretches from the innovative Squirrel Nut Zippers in the 90s to his recent projects on the beloved Fat Possum label out of Mississippi. He’s been called a “torchbearer for deep south mythology and culture,” and I agree. Whether country, garage or old-time, Jimbo always has something to say and a captivating edge.
Finally, Jason D. Williams will close our show, because believe me, you don’t want to follow his act. Distilled in the nation’s blood source of rock and soul, Memphis, TN, Jason D’s piano power and vocal artistry is a direct taproot to the spirit of Sun Records, circa 1955. When he played Roots in very early 2011, I wrote with reverence for his “wild-man fervor and a virtuoso attack on the rock and roll piano. The barn became a honky tonk and a church at the same time. He beamed a thousand watt smile. He played behind his back. He played lying down on the top of the piano, and did a tumbling routine off onto the floor. . .No wonder this guy’s reputation precedes him; he’s full-on Dixie dynamite.”
So there’s the promise, and of course the deal is only ten bucks to get in at the Barn and FREE to listen over the airwaves or watch on line. Remember we have new staging and lighting that’s well worth checking out. Fall 2012 is under way, and we expect many more great balls of fire to come.