It appeared planned by somebody obsessed with symmetry, but it just happened to work out this way. Last night’s Music City Roots was bookended by Nashville duos – a pair of deuces as it were. It was like getting four artists in the space of two, yet even more because of mysterious multiplier effect that happens when great talents collaborate. It’s the power of two; it’s exponential.
In the case of DADDY, who opened the show as the day’s wild weather finally settled down into a pleasant evening, the duo label is slightly misapplied. As we discussed in our interview, despite the prominent co-lead vocals of Tommy Womack and Will Kimbrough, this five-year-old experiment was intended to be a BAND, with all of its components mattering as much as the others, from the Paul Griffith/Dave Jacques rhythm section through the keys of John Deaderick. But with two observant, witty songwriters up front – guys who have proven their mettle as solo artists for years – DADDY wouldn’t be the same without Kimbrough and Womack. Last night they traded songs, as Will opened with “Nobody From Nowhere” and Tommy followed with his acerbic commencement speech of a song “Early To Bed, Early To Rise.” So it went, with Griffith laying down puncturing grooves and Kimbrough and Deaderick each taking blazing, leisurely solos.
You may have heard that our show had a late-breaking cancellation when the songwriter known as Paleface came down with pneumonia (sorry man, get well soon!) but thank heaven nothing happened to Doug Paisley. He was a wonderful discovery, with a naturally enthralling voice and elegantly simple but sharp songwriting. I got a strong feeling from his vocal approach and deft cross-picking style on his guitar that he’d be a fan of Tony Rice and Gordon Lightfoot, and a post-set conversation confirmed that. “We Weather” was strongly reminiscent of John Prine, and “Bat Song” was a movingly melodic folk tune set in a minor key like an English ballad. Really lovely stuff.
Paisley set the stage for Uncle Monk, the spare and quirky folk duo of Tommy Ramone and Claudia Tienan. They sure ain’t polished, but if you adopt the same loosey-goosey standards for musicianship of punk rock and apply it to string-grass, then you might get something like this well-meaning little group. It’s clear they love the music and it was pretty fascinating talking to Tommy. I’d sure love to hear him really rip into some stories.
And in our clean-up spot, the heavy hitters. It would be a good night to have Bill Lloyd or Radney Foster as solo acts, but to have them together, hard on the heels of their first duo album in 20 years, well this is why we get up in the morning. Their brand of country-rock was part of what got me interested in country music back in the late 80s. They’re living proof that country mingled with other music will be as good as that other music, and their raw ingredients are things like Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers and the Beatles. The new music just blooms with harmony and shimmering guitars. They kicked off with the energetic title track to the new disc, “It’s Already Tomorrow,” and they also offered up the boldly romantic “If It Hadn’t Been For You.” Their take on “What Do You Want From Me” segued deftly into “I Feel Fine,” putting the Beatles influence in sharp relief. And they wrapped with a couple of F&L classics from the day, “Crazy Over You” and “Faster and Louder.” Then it was all hands on for I think the shortest Loveless Jam in history, but with Tommy Ramone there, there simply was no choice: “I Want To Be Sedated.” And where usually we’re all about singing the truth, this was pure make-believe. We left feeling at least as alive and aware as we always do after MCR, perhaps even twice as much.