I have a good feeling about this. Music City Roots this week includes a performance by a young Nashville artist who’s made a remarkable stylistic journey and who (though I have a terrible track record at predicting this stuff) could be a big national deal by this time next year. Her name is Megan McCormick, and I’ve been driving around for the past month with her debut CD Honest Words in my car. It’s being released the day before our show, and as much as I’ve appreciated Megan in local venues and as a supporting musician to others, I had no inkling she was going to come up with something so complete, so absorbing and so beautifully crafted. This album, brimming with bold melodies, heart-torn lyrics and amazing guitar work, heralds a major arrival.
It’s not just me. The disc is being released by the ultra-prestigious Ryko, in a partnership with groovy rock/improv magazine Relix. It’s already being praised to the skies, in advance of its release, by attention-getting national magazines like Oprah. McCormick has heavyweight publicity and marketing backing, and it looks like it’s going to be as strong an album roll-out as any Nashville rocker this side of Will Hoge.
How did a 23-year-old arrive at such a lofty, unexpected place? It’s a little unusual. She grew up in Alaska in a musical household. Among her early faves, she notes in her bio, were the amusing pairing of Reba McEntire and Gladys Knight. Megan enrolled as one of the earliest students in the East Tennessee University’s now-famous bluegrass music program, and there is film out there of her as an undergrad there with a colored Mohawk haircut. Today there’s just an eyedropper of that bluegrass education or punk quality in her music. Mostly she’s a modern pop rocker who will (hopefully) light up fans of Melissa Etheridge and recent Roots guest Brandi Carlisle. And what will set her apart in that crowded chick songwriter field is her guitar chops. She’s truly one of the most musical and gritty electric players at work in Nashville, and it’s something to see her back up her own bold singing with fiery fretwork.
Okay, you get my point. I’m jazzed about Megan. But the rest of our lineup is pretty amazing as well. Mary Gauthier is a star of Americana who bloomed late but bloomed big, with an Americana emerging artist of the year award and a contract with the exceptional Lost Highway Records. Her songs draw on her tough pre-musical life and simmer with lyrical energy. We’ve also got Gabriel Kelly, a no-nonsense songwriting roots rocker who’s toured extensively since taking to the performing life around 2000. Have Gun Will Travel is a Florida band that leaves a trail of happy fans and critics. While the Honeycutters are out of western North Carolina and earning love from WNCW, the Smoky Mountains voice of musical integrity.
Speaking of integrity, you also need to know that this week’s show is one of our regular benefits for our partners at the Nature Conservancy. Please come out to support out tunes and their amazing mission. I’m looking forward to a mix of thoughtful songs, ripping instrumental chops and honest singing. That’s what these guys do. It’s what we want to bring you every week.