Compared to our long-time (and sadly former) house photographer Tony Scarlati or Nashville standouts like John Partipilo and Bill Steber, I’m an absolute hack behind a still camera. But I think I have a good eye, and frequently I see on the Roots stage a fleeting moment or a juxtaposition that I wish I could freeze in time. This week I got that flash looking down the row of four instruments wielded by The Revelers as the Louisiana band pumped away on their swamp pop mélange. There was a 1950s archtop Gibson guitar, a buffed-by-time alto saxophone, an old wooden fiddle and a hand-made button accordion with an almost Native American pattern decorating its bellows. This timeless picture-that-might-have-been bore witness to the hand-made quality of the music we try to present every week. And the show from whence the memory was made was top notch, for it was not just The Revelers who reveled or rocked.
Peter Cooper guest hosted, opening with the fascinating song “Distraction” distinguished by verbal gymnastics and cool climbing chord changes. He then brought on Luella so that we could see what she and her East Nashville dudes were going to do with their stage full of twinkly lights, flowers and little toys. Luella last joined us a few years ago with her short-lived project Luella and the Sun, but I must say the artist herself seems sunnier in her new configuration. There’s less mystique and more sass and charm. And the music – a mix of originals and expertly selected covers from old world blues and gospel – is stout and soulful. Tim Carroll’s guitar is greasy yet taught. Luella’s voice, whether behind the slow sonic swirl of “It Ain’t Easy” or the self-described energy of “Jump Baby Jump” had the emotion of a cry but the control of a jazz singer. I hope the rock critics and bookers who were all excited by Luella version 1.0 give her the look again.
I knew Anthony the awesome and welcoming bartender from Kimbro’s and I knew of Anthony Adams & The Night Owls, but until I arrived on Wednesday, I didn’t know they were the same guy. Sorry! What a nice surprise. Because the band’s soulful southern rock, its controlled tempos and deep emotional commitment really hit the spot and lit up the crowd. There was expert slide electric guitar from Josh (son of Grady) Martin. Harmony vocals came from our fave Dorothy Daniel of The Danberrys. And Joel Meeks, on the far side of the stage from me, repeatedly blew the room away with lively solos on both harmonica and alto sax. Meanwhile there was Anthony center stage holding it together with killer songs and a commanding voice. The ballad “Moon” was a standout. So was the standing ovation from his loyal Franklin followers and a bunch of folks who’d just heard him for the first time.
The electricity factor dialed down but there was certainly no loss of energy as The Revelers took the stage with those picturesque instruments. I couldn’t sit down as the zydeco groove and French lyrics of “Des Fois” filled the room. “Outta Sight” was a nice slinky song of escape from a dying relationship. Drummer Glenn Fields took a strong lead vocal turn on the 6/8 shuffle “Being Your Clown.” Then he came to the front of the stage with an iron triangle while two of the Revellers paired up with fiddles for a true dash of Cajun tradition. The full band returned for an absolute jam on “Blackpot Stomp,” an original named after their October festival in Lafayette. I’d have this band on every month if I could.
And finally, all pickups and wires and amplifiers were dispensed with as a bluegrass super group took the stage. In another reminder of what a wonder it is to live in Nashville, there was Jason Carter on fiddle, Charlie Cushman on banjo, Mark Fain on bass and Dan Tyminksi on mandolin. Leading this pack of pickers was the great Jeff White, whose clean traditional voice and precise guitar comprises one of the genre’s most underrated and underexposed mega talents. Some of the songs were ones Jeff wrote but which have become associated with other stars. Del McCory cut “The Cold Hard Facts” but here was Jeff’s version with Dan’s sky high harmony. “Carry Me Across The Mountain” was a title cut for Tyminski himself, and it sounded great. “Pretty Saro” was a Celtic-tinged tune inspired by Jeff’s long work with the legendary Chieftains. And it was all fabulous, but I must say my attention was most riveted in this performance by Cushman’s banjo. The rolling riffs of the five-string Scruggs style is hard enough to master, let alone transcending the lick formulas to find the freedom to improvise and convey emotion. Cushman is as good and fluid and flexible at this as anyone I’ve heard. He’s a fountain of ideas and his timing is remarkable.
Things wrapped up with an all hands Nashville Jam on “Sitting On Top of the World.” Then we were off for a nightcap with the Nite Owls at Kimbro’s and the revelry of another week was in the books.