Tony Brown, the great Nashville producer who signed a whole bunch of excellence to MCA Records in the 1980s and 90s, said he got “zapped” by Nanci Griffith when he saw her play live for the first time. And he wasn’t the only one. From her origins as an Austin-based folksinger through hear early albums with legendary Rounder Records and then during her years with major labels, Griffith climbed a tall ladder and now sits in an esteemed position as one of the finest and most seductive songwriters in that fascinating overlap between country and folk.
I got zapped by Griffith live as well, albeit second hand. I got hold of her 1988 album One Fair Summer Evening and played it over and over again as I savored the highlights of her catalog to that point, songs like “Trouble In The Fields,” “Spin On A Red Brick Floor,” and her enthralling “Love At The Five And Dime,” which Kathy Mattea took to the top five at country radio. She had all the twang and depth one associates with Texas songwriters, plus the commitment to the powerful story-style folk songs common to the Northeast. No wonder she’s made fans all over the world. Griffith never stopped writing and recording great songs. Her most recent CD The Loving Kind is full of observant and personal takes on the world around her.
The rest of our fair autumn evening at the Roots will feature sets by a new generation of Americana bands that are as informed by indie rock as by the folk/blues/country classics. The New Familiars are a five-piece acoustic band driven by slide resonator guitar, standup bass and harmonica. Holy Ghost Tent Revival hails from Greensboro, NC, and they’re barnstorming the country with their amalgam of influences, which they say includes “dirty jazz, ragtime, folk, roots country/bluegrass, big band and rock and roll.” And we’ll also be hearing from the Black Lillies, a Knoxville band featuring the vocals and multi-instrumental attack of Cruz Contreras, formerly of that city’s famous Robinella and the CC Stringband.
It adds up to the very spirit of Music City Roots: come for something tried and true and leave a fan of someone new.