First of all, Hello. Your humble scribe and Roots interview guy has returned from three weeks in a distant land, and I couldn’t be happier to be preparing my ears and soul for another Wednesday night of good times at the Barn. I missed a lot about home, but nothing more than Music City Roots. Many thanks to Jon Weisberger, Larry Nager and Jewly Hight for their inspiring and interesting blogging and interviewing in my absence.
Now to address a different kind of coverage, this week’s lineup got me thinking about the fine and perilous art of performing songs made famous by others. In Americana it’s pretty much a given that artists write their own music, but I’ve always loved bands and singers who could artfully sprinkle their sets and albums with songs that influenced them – songs we might know and that they just love to sing. It lets you hear their voices and instruments in a fresh way, and you get to have that electric feeling that comes from thinking: I’ve heard that before but I’ve never heard it that WAY before.
At least two Music City Roots acts have a striking way with covers. Last Train Home is the much loved rocking country outfit fronted by writer/singer/journalist/record label owner Eric Brace. Their decade-plus career began in Washington DC and migrated to Nashville some years ago. And while Brace performs solo and with duo partner Peter Cooper these days, the Last Train Home bandwagon rolls on, covers flying. They’ve opened many a show with a swaggering “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” from the Bob Dylan scriptures. Brace can melt your icy soul with his rendition of Tom T. Hall’s “I Flew Over Our House Last Night.” And they can rock a barroom hard with their full-bodied take on Bill Monroe’s “Walls of Time.” If Brace and Co. hadn’t written a large body of exceptional work over eight albums, these would just be good covers, but deployed strategically and artistically as they have been, they’re more like the swirls in the fingerprints of the band.
The New Familiars, our friends from Western NC, sound like they drew their band name from the very idea of cover tunes, and boy do they bring fresh takes to surprising songs. When they last played Roots, the otherwise shaggy, bluegrassy quartet swayed into the Temptations’ “My Girl” with cooing harmonies. And a quick internet search turned up video of the boys doing bold and blazing covers of “Another Brick In The Wall” by Pink Floyd and “Baba O’Riley” by The Who. With mandolin and slide guitar. It’s this sense of adventure that keeps Americana music interesting and the New Familiar worthy of repeat visits.
Rounding out this week’s cast will be the uproarious Defibulators, an acclaimed indie folk band with many moving parts. Formed in New York, they’ve been much in demand on tour supporting their superlative album Corn Money. Also from New York and also in the uproarious string band vein are the Spirit Family Reunion, a band that approaches the old school with lusty gusto. And holding down the more sober singer songwriter end of things will be Leo Rondeau, a Texan with a mighty pen whose writing inspires comparisons to Townes and Guy. He probably won’t be doing cover songs, but in our world you never know.
Hoping for more lightweight spring weather like last week! See you at the Barn or on the air.