Do you share my cellular-level love for the round, chiming sound of undistorted electric guitars, especially those of the Rickenbacker and Fender Telecaster species? It’s the bright light that seems to explode out of the speakers at the opening of The Byrds doing “Turn, Turn, Turn” or R.E.M. kicking off “Don’t Go Back To Rockville.” It’s a sound that made its way from Buddy Holly to Britain and the Beatles and back to the U.S., ultimately to be recognized as a key part of a sparkling sub-genre called power pop, wherepretty guitar meshes with sunny vocal harmonies and hot beats. That’s all over-simplified, but if you wanted to know the deep story, ask our guest this week Bill Lloyd, because he’s been designated Nashville’s power pop king.
In fact when Lloyd sat recently for an interview with the legendary Stereophile editor Robert Baird, an early advocate of Bill’s solo work, it appeared under the headline “Power Pop Icon.” In the piece Bill doesn’t deny loving the textural contrast of sweetness and strength in the music of Big Star, The Raspberries and so forth, but he says ultimately, “I’m all about the songs. I like songs for their structure, and the tension and release, and that goes for both music and lyrics. I really just like how a well-written song is put together, and that satisfaction you get as it unfolds.”
On Bill Lloyd albums like 1994’s Set To Pop (cited by Baird as a historic “Record To Die For”) and the more recent Boy King of Tokyo, we experience Lloyd the songwriter. He seems to dash them off, but his verses and choruses fit and work together with intricate precision in compact time constraints like the workings of old analog pocket watches. But this summer came Lloyd*Ering, a new collection of covers that feels like an autobiography in songs and influences. He does Bobby Fuller Four’s “Let Her Dance” and Harry Nilsson’s “The Lottery Song” and “Across The Universe” by The Beatles. When “Neverland” by the dB’s segued into “Every Word Means No” by Let’s Active I about came unglued, because those were tracks I wore out in high school as a young and very green devotee of the Southern school of power pop.
Besides his distinguished career as a solo artist, Bill Lloyd made history bringing some of that power pop color to country radio in his era-influencing duo with Radney Foster. Lloyd has been a sideman or guest for numerous rocking legends including Cheap Trick. And he’s shaped Nashville’s modern day Music City story by leading the incredible 15 year run of the Long Players, that moveable feat of a collective that covers classic albums front to back. Just a couple weeks ago they did R.E.M.’s Out of Time and it took us all out of time. Plus Bill’s name has four L’s in a row and how many people can say that?
There’s more bright blazing guitar fun to be had this week at Roots as Grant Farm returns, the Colorado based band that features the fearless fretwork of Tyler Grant. Fans of bluegrass guitar got to know this California-Nashville-Colorado musician years ago when he was a young national champion flatpicker and a member of the Emmitt-Nershi Band. He’s superb in both traditional and forward looking styles, and his six year experiment as Grant Farm has burnished his credentials as an electric jam picker too. I’m loving the very new album Kiss The Ground, with its psychedelic country feel and sonic touches worthy of the Rocky Mountain air. The songs are loosely tied together by a theme of working people and the rows they must hoe. Perhaps explaining the farm in the band’s name.
Also known for his instrumental prowess is our guest Joe K. Walsh. I’ve seen this Maine-based musician with his jazz-grass band Mr. Sun, where his devilishly smart and tasteful playing is paired with guitar star Grant Gordy and fiddling great Darol Anger. But Walsh has pursued all kinds of projects in his distinguished career, including deep bluegrass with The Gibson Brothers and the early days of eclectic and lovely Joy Kills Sorrow. Joe’s recently released his second album as a leader. The appropriately titled Borderland ranges from the down home mountain sound of “Never More Will Roam” to beautifully conceptual string music such as “Bee Loud Glade,” one of two tunes inspired by my hero William Butler Yeats. With ensemble players such as fiddler Brittany Haas and guitarist Courtney Hartman (Della Mae) it’s no surprise the results are impressive.
And speaking of keeping good traditional music company, when songwriter and singer Todd Burge visited us in the Spring of 2012, his band included Mike Bub on bass plus guitar pickers Kenny Vaughan and Tim O’Brien. Not too shabby, as any Nashville music fan would agree. Burge has ties to Tim by virtue of being a fellow West Virginian and a longtime favorite on Mountain Stage and other regional showcases. Burge’s most recent release compiles his Mountain Stage performances over the years and just prior to that he released more original music on 2015’s Imitation Life. He’s been called literary and ingenious and West Virginia’s answer to Randy Newman and Warren Zevon. It’ll be a treat to catch him on our stage again.
By the time we see each other for Roots this week, our long national nightmare of a presidential campaign will be (ostensibly) over. God willing, the results will be unambiguous and the American people will accept the outcome with democratic grace. It’s discomforting to think that’s even remotely in doubt, but we’ve got power pop and bluegrass music to get us through the stress.