Only Natural

I make it a mental habit to be especially alert this time of year. Every passing Spring, with its ephemeral cycles – the daffodils, the tulip trees, the cherry blossoms and the magisterial opening of the dogwoods (where we are just now) – is more precious to me as I tick off my years. I don’t just spend more time outside. I try to take lots of pictures with all five senses and really feel the movement of the light and air and color. Spring in the South is my favorite song.

This week at Roots, with its Nature Conservancy fund-raiser and our first truly balmy and beautiful night of 2014, my nerve endings were more a-tingle than ever. Because not only was it one of those crisp and fragrant evenings on the edge of Music City, it was the first show of our last season at the Loveless Cafe. As I noted on stage last night and in a blog post yesterday, we’ve announced our plans to move (not far really) to the Factory At Franklin with our Summer Season on July 9. See the details and rationale via the links. Just know because of this, we’re all in high memory-making mode, and last night provided some very sweet ones.

Jim Lauderdale sang his wonderful ode to Spring called “Hummingbird” because could he really have done anything else? Then I spent a few minutes on stage with my old pal Paul Kingsbury, a country music historian who’s now director of communications for the Nature Conservancy of Tennessee, and he talked about some of the marquee projects that have made TNC such a contributor over the years to Tennessee’s rivers, forests, caves and mountains. And then we enjoyed some sounds from the mountains in the music of Nikki Talley. Suspended nicely between deep North Carolina tradition and modernity, she offered songs both punchy and plaintive in a bold and profound voice, while her husband Jason Sharp played guitar. And not conventional Doc and Merle style guitar, which you might expect from an Asheville acoustic pair. He wove his old Gibson flattop through some distortion and delay circuits, making for some exciting solos and some golden ambient texture behind Nikki’s singing. She offered a robust take on the classic “Long Black Veil” and I loved her own spring time bird song called “Big Ole Robin.” She wrapped with a long story song of her own making, backed by clawhammer banjo. It was splendid; she’s understated with an old soul.

Winner of the night in terms of innovation and attention to musical detail was our next band Driftwood. Their opening “Outer Space” began with pulsing strings (fiddle and bass) in tandem with pushing and pulling energy of banjo and guitar. A delicate a cappella section gave way to a fugue-like stretch and a tender ending. It was a set of unexpected turns and changes of texture. Claire Byrne’s proud, upturned voice and adventuresome fiddle got huge reactions from the crowd. I haven’t seen one of our folky bands with this much arrangement and thoughtfulness in a long time. Definitely deserving of the crowd’s standing ovation.

DAN THE TORPEDOES! (they like to be capitalized) is a band that definitely reflects the casual, community side of Nashville. Leader Dan Keen is a great friend of our show and of true musicianship in Music City. For more than a decade I’ve seen him champion and mentor emerging talent without a care whether their sound was in tune with the commercial mainstream or not. He fronts a six-piece band made up mostly of very old friends who play for the good times, usually at Kimbros in Franklin. They weren’t selling an album, just entertaining – and doing so with some smooth and complex pop as in “Another Word For Love” and lyrical tenderness in “I Want You So Bad.” Dan did a fine job on some tricky lead vocals. Ronnie Brooks offered polished and detailed lead guitar. Our good friend (and attorney) Stephanie Taylor played rockin’ country fiddle to round out the instrumental attack.

As you probably know by now, an unfortunate last-minute wrinkle having to do with nerdy music business stuff made it impossible for Chatham County Line to perform, as much as they and we wanted them to. We were sad, for sure. But we were happy that East Nashville’s Sarah Potenza answered the last minute call to come play the show closing set. She’s a buoyant, funny person who lights up any situation, but it’s her smoky, thrilling voice that makes her an artist to watch. On opener “The Mess You Made Of Me,” her phrasing and delicate figures elicited yelps and murmurs of astonishment. She sang of the starving artist’s life on the road in “Hard To Want” and waiting for the elusive break in “My Turn,” a song that’s landed her in this Spring’s Merlefest songwriting contest. She’s a fine songwriter and an even better singer.

Jim’s Loveless Jam choice was Hank’s “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It” which is swingy and great, but frankly I could never relate to that one because it’s about being deprived of beer, and I just wouldn’t ever get into such a situation. Especially not in Spring time.

Craig H.

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