When the MCR team flew back from chilly drizzly Ireland on Monday evening, the pilot surprised us by saying the temperature on the ground was 70 degrees, and we landed in a different Nashville than the one we left. Tulip trees were blooming. We could open windows and doors, and even when it rained it smelled and felt good. Then Peter Cooper kicked off this week’s MCR with his delightful, hope renewing song “Opening Day,” and everything seemed to be coming up roses. The music that followed reaffirmed our reasons for optimism and good cheer.
The duo of Kacy & Clayton became my night’s big surprise. They’d promised unadorned folk music informed by their Canadian upbringing, and they more than delivered. Clayton’s acoustic guitar rolled with a heavy thumb and intricate fingerstyle that evoked the woody and wiry sound of Burt Jansch or Nick Drake. Second cousin Kacy sang lead in an arresting alto that seemed to come right out of 1966, from a set at the Gaslight Cafe featuring Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. Clayton tended to join in singing on choruses with spot on harmony. “Strange Country” had an ancient Celtic overtone. “Rio Grande” was more sprightly and bluesy. And his guitar solos were a dazzling, ragtime display of a type we don’t see much anymore. The duo is debuting on New West Records this Spring.
The energy in Rebecca Rubion’s set came from the careful tension between her gentle, pretty voice and the completeness of her skilled three piece band. Her opener was spare with just claps, minimal percussion and gospel chanting. Then things got poppier and more sprightly with sweet open chords and story-driven songs. “Vacherie Girl” was a swinging Randy Newman-esque love song drawn from the story of Rubion’s grandparents in rural Louisiana. Guitarist Jesse Isley did a great job singing the male part of the duet. “Sometimes” was a well arranged song about patience. And set closer “Anywhere I Go” had the most motion of all – a forward leaning song with groove baked into the language.
Substance matched abundant style in the music of Lindi Ortega, who delivered a considered and original vision of classic country music. She came out with the hard shuffling, oh-lonesome-me song “Demons Don’t Get Me Down,” singing with an edgy, vibrato-heavy voice. “Ashes” is the fine opening track of her new Faded Gloryville album and on stage it had as much blue smoke and mist as its title. I was sitting near electric guitarist James Robertson whose vintage Telecaster tone was as rich and coppery as any I’ve heard. Ortega’s album’s title track had an engaging beat and a brilliant lock between melody and guitar riff. She and the band closed with the high energy rock and roller “Run Amok.” This woman takes me to a place that feels like Austin’s Continental Club at half past midnight, and that’s what a 21st century country torch singer ought to do.
Rounding out the night was a sound we’ve long loved. Alanna Royale the band started the groove out with some spare instrumental ideas and horn themes against Jared Colby’s choppy, funky guitar. Then Alanna the singer took the stage with her usual dominance and opened up with “I Know,” a big flourishy song that appears to be new and perhaps destined for the album they’re about to begin working on. More familiar songs from their danceable hit parade were “Cop Show” and “Animal,” whose careful construction and arrangement impresses me more every time I hear them. This band works both as a dance party and a listening party. Also new was “I Used To Dream,” one of the more emotionally connecting songs AR has done to date. They closed with a swirling, speedy 6/8 groove on “Giving It All Away,” which ended with ferocious abandon and fat beats.
That led to an all-hands-on-deck spin through “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” and I couldn’t make that fit in with any larger theme of the night with the world’s biggest shoehorn. But it was fun. And so was the hangout after the show at Kimbro’s, our new clubhouse in Franklin. Being on the front porch with warm air and a Spring shower was yet another sign that we’ve reached the season of new beginnings.