It was quite an anniversary on which to hold a rootsy radio show: seventy five years since the attack on Pearl Harbor and the start of a remarkable era in American life – the era that shaped my parents and myself and everybody we’ve ever known. It seemed a little too random in the course of the show to salute the lives lost on Dec. 7, 1941 and the veterans of that fight who are still with us. And maybe it’s a little random here too, but it’s my column and I’ll salute if I want to.
I’m thinking about how some of the core values that won that war and the peace that followed, like unity and sacrifice and decency, are being tested sorely right now. And unlike a lot of folks, I don’t see those as something other than or apart from than our world of music and art. I see what we present and the integrity and passion of the artists we love as the most unifying and uplifting force we have available to us. That’s why I hate seeing it squandered and profaned as a mass market consumer product and why I so appreciate our team and guest artists and community. They keep the center holding.
In that spirit, it was great to hear four Nashville artists from four different points of view on our stage this week at the penultimate show of 2016. Our guests brought vivid vision, stories, twang and soul – not to mention a generally electrified and electrifying tone to the night. After several weeks that leaned more to the acoustic side, Wednesday’s stage featured more amplifiers and guitar pedal boards than I’ve seen in ages.
East Nashville’s rising star Rorey Carroll took the stage in big punky black boots and winsome red pigtails, bringing heavy doses of tone as her Gretsch Black Falcon guitar shimmered along with her lead guitar player. Opener “Black Dog” had a sneaky beat appropriate for the subject matter. The set was moodier and more ambient all around then I expected, but that made a great bed for Rory’s velvety voice and its contrastingly tart lines. In “1:42 Night Train” she’s heading off to a date she knows is wrong. “I’m Low” was a woozy 6/8 country ballad. And closer “Love Is An Outlaw,” the title track from her current album, was subdued with glowing electric piano. I wrote in my notes that the tone of the set was “smolten – yes, smolten.” Take my made up word as you will.
The electric guitar of Cy Winstanley in the set by the Tattletale Saints was a bit crisper and cooler. His Telecaster paired with his companion Vanessa McGowan’s acoustic bass like book matched wood. Pleasingly, the duo brought along a drummer and steel player to flesh out their rich sound, because man, the songs are stellar. “Sonoma County Wine” tells a small tale of a hookup with abundance of character and tune, the two counterparts being sung by him and her from their respective points of view. In “I Did This To Myself,” Cy’s remarkably supple and elegant voice (he’s an aural ringer for Paul Simon at times) matched the loser’s lament perfectly. “I Don’t Sing So Much Anymore” was lonesome jazz with a sweet bass solo from McGowan. Closer “Big City Women” had the most tempo, with a Motown four-by-four beat on the verses and an overall feeling of classic rhythm and blues.
Thence came the country music mainline from Western Kentucky to East Nashville. Kelsey Waldon is a charming and heart-rending at the same time. With a twinkle in her eye she can pierce you with melancholy or shiv a rival with icy cool worthy of Loretta Lynn. The latter was more the feeling of opening song “False King” with a hook I love: “You can’t place a crown on the head of a clown and hope he turns out to be a king.” Kind of reminded me of current events. There were curtains of gorgeous steel guitar from Brett Resnick, notably the solo on set closer “All By Myself.” Also sweet was Walson’s slow rocking take on Bill Monroe’s “Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road.” She knows lonesome and she showed it.
I really didn’t know what to expect from Ron Pope. The New Yorker turned Nashvillian has recorded a wide range of sounds and he came to the stage wearing a balls-to-the-wall western shirt under a wild black beard and braided hair. And there was this huge band with him. So after a horn fanfare, we got some righteous New Orleans style soul with touches and tones of Memphis. In “Hell or High Water,” six voices made a beautiful chorus that preceded a big uptempo celebration of a song. In the interview, Pope talked about growing up near Atlanta and absorbing the sounds of the Deep South and developing an awareness that it lay behind all the greatest American popular music. That would seem to be the ethic that ties his artistry together. It was eclectic in the best way.
Peter Cooper guest hosted the night and settled early on Neil Young’s “Helpless” for the Nashville Jam. So we ended the night on that easy tempo and zen mood. One more show for the year next week folks. So come salute four more artists with us.