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Salty Songs and Songwriters

I got to meet country singer and songwriter Cody Jinks on Wednesday, and I am pleased to report that, as his album title asserts, he is Not The Devil. While his merch is full of flaming skulls and his web site depicts him as the black-bearded former death metal artist turned honky tonker that he is, the man himself is an open, smiling and considerate guy. He hung out after the show greeting and meeting with his fans and taking pictures as long as any artist I can remember. At the same time, he had a fire behind his eyes and about a million miles under his rings and tattoos, and our on stage conversation felt far too short. It was just one highlight of a flavorful night of music. Somebody must have brought some salt. And indeed it wasn’t just Old Salt Union who did so. Peter Case showed world weary wisdom. Jesse Kramer radiated. Colin Hay showed the power of reinvention. I can still taste it now.

Case took the stage first, seated with a fedora on his head and a 12-string acoustic guitar in his lap. The instrument sounded huge in the hall as he rumbled into Bob Dylan’s “Long Time Gone” disguised as a British Isles folk ballad. “Pelican Bay” was a blunt protest song about American mass incarceration based on a real maximum security prison in Louisiana. And in stark contrast, he performed the darting melody and charming allusions of “Paradise, Etc.” from the terrific album Flying Saucer Blues.

Young and lanky Jesse Kramer took the stage for our second solo set of the night and brought a whole different set of qualities to the hall. He’s a gravelly baritone with loads of tone and emotion, more Amos Lee than Arlo Guthrie. “Same Old Stars” was a sentimental song of homesickness. “First Day In Nashville” was a gutsy memoir that included reflection on the passing of Merle Haggard. Mid-set Jesse heaped praise on Cody Jinks as his “hero” and said “If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t be on this stage.” Not sure what the history is there, but I’m curious.

Old Salt Union brought a lot of musical invention and thought to their breezy and uplifting songs. Bassist Jesse Farrar said in our interview that he and fiddler John Brighton were both jazz performance majors. And it showed in the string suite that opened and elevated “On My Way” and Jesse’s scat/bass solo at the top of “Madam Plum.” This was just pure good-time music with brains, and that’s where it’s at.

The energy level had been rising all night and hit a climax point in the electric five-piece band of Cody Jinks. Many in our full house had come to see this long-simmering overnight-success. And he delivered with bone-strong arrangements and phenomenal songs. I didn’t take detailed notes here because I was just drawn into the feeling of the set, which modulated tempo and ferocity and featured abundant soloing by pedal steel player Austin Tripp and lead guitarist Chris Clarity. “I’m Not The Devil” was the slowest burn of the five but it had a seductive sway and tons of emotion. They closed out with an anthemic encore about “raising hell with the hippies and the cowboys.” That’s the closest thing to national healing I’ve heard in a while.

That left Colin Hay in a position to round out the night and ease us all into a place like home. His voice is seasoned with time and spot on with tone and pitch, and he has a serious gift for melody. He urged the crowd to get involved in the music on his opening song “Tumblin’ Down,” so we sang the backup to his lead on the choruses. “A Thousand Million Reasons” was a lush and romantic song from his upcoming Fierce Mercy album. I also loved the succulent language and 6/8 swing of “Waiting For My Real Life To Begin.” Gentle and gentlemanly stuff from a veteran with a lot more to say.

Cody Jinks’s band made the core of the musicians on stage for the Nashville Jam, where Jim took the lead on Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink.” Probably something some salt on the rim.

Craig H.

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