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On Song

One of the things I love about the Formula One racing I follow is the heavy British tilt of the television commentary, because the guys are full of expressions we’re not used to hearing. One nice expression of when a driver, team and car are really working well is to say they’re “on song.” This week at Roots, we’re presenting four women who as writers and vocalists are all on song. Their variety and their stories suggest that the larger ecosystem of independent music, for all the lamenting that goes on out there, is also humming along - perhaps not Formula One fast and wealthy, but clicking on all cylinders just the same. These are mostly new artists to me (and all new to the show), so this will be a night of discovery. I’ll offer what I’ve learned about these women in show performance order.

Laney Jones calls her band The Spirits and that feels appropriate given the fun and sprightly qualities of her recordings, which are full of sturdy melodies and passages of proud pogo-stick pop between folkier verses and the timbres of banjos and dobros. In fact banjo appears to be her primary performing instrument, besides her voice which is big and flexible and juicy. The Florida native studied on a scholarship at Berklee College of Music and has earned airplay and accolades for her growing body of work. She shared a grand prize at the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and enjoyed a billing with Alison Krauss on a PBS special.

In May of last year Katie Pruitt won the inaugural Nashville Songwriting Scholarship established by the BMI Foundation. That’s cool in itself but perhaps even better is knowing that Kacey Musgraves was one of the judges. Pruitt, an Athens, GA native, was then a 22-year old songwriting major at Belmont University. She’s truly emerging having not released any formal recordings, but a survey of her Soundcloud page suggests she could craft something solid in any number of genres. Ya gotta be nimble to be an artist in this era, and that plus her relatable and rangy voice puts her in a good spot.

Nashville’s Mary Bragg dropped me the right hint at the right time back this winter at Folk Alliance in Kansas City and I was finally able to give this superb songwriter an overdue listen at a late night showcase. I learned on that occasion that she writes and hangs with favorites of ours like Michaela Anne, Liz Longley, Robby Hecht and Becky Warren. And on further investigation I found out she’s a small town Georgia native who once made an album in New York with colleagues of Norah Jones. She moved to Nashville in 2014 and this past spring she won the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest, putting her in some heady company. And her very new album Lucky Strike, made in a barn with songwriter guru Jim Reilley of The New Dylans, is raw, rocking and glorious.

Closing the show is an artist long on charisma and flamboyance from New Orleans, where both those qualities are held in high regard. Carsie Blanton introduces herself at her web site with the proudly blunt: “Hi, I’m Carsie. I make songs, records, videos, blog posts, and mischief.” The critics from her hotly musical home town and elsewhere are effusive, using words like “swagger” and “moxie” and “edgy” and “folksy.” She has a classic pop appreciation as well as a feel for the contemporary New Orleans streets. In fact she made a truly magic music video for her song “Hot Night” featuring after-dark reveries and dancing by local folks. Her newest album’s title cut “So Ferocious” also produced some awe inspiring film that depicts four girls acting out the feminist theme of the song in vividly shot black and white. There’s a huge amount of talent and creative force here, and we’re looking forward to experiencing it.

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