When C. Montgomery Burns, the evil plutocrat and environmental despoiler of Springfield says it on The Simpsons, he taps his fingertips together and smiles malevolently as he contemplates his victims running for their lives. When we release the hounds in a new year and season of Music City Roots, it’s with giddy excitement of a much funkier and more loving nature. Because it heralds the return of Greyhounds, the Austin ensemble that remains among my top five MCR discoveries of all time. I was so jazzed by their January 2015 performance that a few nights later I drove 20 miles out to Leiper’s Fork in frigid weather to see them again. They contribute to a splendid opening night lineup that also includes a fascinating France-based Englishman, a splendid “brother” band with no brothers and some actual brothers who make badass bluegrass as The Travelin’ McCourys. More on them in a moment.
Greyhounds (no “The” if you please) is comprised of the unique and almost inexplicable pairing of Andrew Trube and Anthony Farrell. The former is a guitarist whose taste in ancient amplifiers and pawn shop axes seems to dovetail with his LBJ-inspired sense of fashion. The latter sits at similarly vintage keyboards and sings out of the side of his mouth in a Memphis croon. Both write and contribute to trippy and intriguing arrangements distinguished by layers and groove. I don’t know if they’re still working with drummer Anthony Cole, their partner in their regular road gig with JJ Grey and Mofro, but AC’s efficiency and funk was among the finest work on the skins we’ve ever seen. I’ll smile if he turns up and I’ll trust that if he’s moved on, the guys have found another one of the best drummers on earth. As for recording, Greyhounds released their third project for the legendary Ardent Records in 2016, and it took everything Greyhounds to the next level. Change Of Pace not only offers succulent songs and smoky vibes, it takes a critical look at the world, delivering songs like “Before BP (The War Is On For Your Mind),” with allusions to Noam Chomsky. I think they may be on to something.
I predict you will love the Mulligan Brothers because they are eminently loveable. The Mobile, AL quartet exudes intimacy that they’ve cultivated at a lot of house shows, as well as abundant party gigs on the Gulf Coast. They’re largely acoustic and lush with a sense of ambience and warmth. And they’re not biological but spiritual brethren who took the name Mulligan after the name for a second chance shot in golf (and no, I did not know exactly what that term meant before this). The band first came to my attention through our pal Tom Truitt who booked them to play a set at one of his big Who Knew events. They were spirited and engaging in a way that made one say “who knew?” And as such, great things keep happening to them. Legendary producer Steve Berlin of Los Lobos heard their first album and asked them if he could produce their second, thus the current disc Via Portland. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fesival asked them to perform twice in three years, a rarity. So this will be an exciting MCR debut.
The aforementioned European cat is Piers Faccini, who is one of the most globally attuned and fascinating artists we’ve featured on Roots. After his performance in the winter of 2014 at the Loveless Barn, I wrote that he came off as “a sonic artist who borrows elegantly from North Africa and the Mississippi Delta, even as his vocals reminded me in places of trad British folk singers, with strong and slightly ancient sounding melodies.” That seems to have held true through his recent work I Dreamed An Island, which is a fervent, album-length prayer for and celebration of cultural pluralism. He took to the web recently to pay homage to his “one true master” and “example” Leonard Cohen upon his death. Mingle that song sensibility with North African exotica and you get an idea of Faccini’s elegant sound.
And if Piers Faccini lets us travel without leaving our seats, we also welcome back those voyagers of bluegrass the Travelin’ McCourys. Few bands better exemplify the Roots spirit, with their heads for heritage and their passion for progress. The band, for the uninitiated, features Ronnie and Rob McCoury, sons of Del of course, on mandolin and banjo respectively. Then it’s Jason Carter on fiddle, Alan Bartram on bass and Cody Kilby on fireballing acoustic guitar. Never did carrying a legacy sound so great. The second generation McCourys play the deep real bluegrass at the utmost level, with soaring high harmonies and crackling timing. Then they weave in unexpected cover tunes and influences from jazz, pop and reggae. The last time I saw them was at a free street stage at World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, where an amazing throng of people of all ages gathered to take it in. I was delighted by this one song that had just a tinge of familiarity. My friend placed it. It was a huge hit called “Let Her Go” by the English songwriter known as Passenger, a twee little acoustic number that frankly needed a big blast of grass. The Travelin’ McCourys to the rescue.
Peter Cooper will be our guest host for the first show before Jim Lauderdale returns from tour. Cooper’s got cool news about a big Mac Wiseman album coming this month that we’ll have more on in the coming weeks. Make like a greyhound and run out to see us.