One of my best memories of last’s fall Americana Music Association festival took place in the middle of one of the showcase nights at the Mercy Lounge. A stellar band of jazz-aware sidemen took the stage, followed by a guy who looked a little, well, unfocused. J.D. Souther looked like a rumpled poet who’d slept in. But he donned a guitar and asked the noisy crowd to settle down a little so folks could hear the lyrics, and before long he’d cast a spell. His new materials sounded familiar and lived-in. And his renditions of his classics like “Heartache Tonight” and “New Kid In Town” had everyone singing and swaying along like a high school reunion.
If it was merely nostalgia over the many hits he wrote for the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt that made Souther take to the stage, it would be of middling value. But Souther’s new material and his organic approach to his familiar songs make him something to see. A couple years ago, he returned to the recording studio for the first time in a quarter century, and the result, If The World Was You, was one of the very best albums of 2008. It evokes thoughts of Tom Waits, Bruce Hornsby and Steely Dan all at once. Souther’s ability to wrap sophisticated songwriting in complex arrangements and yet still keep everything rootsy and memorable is truly extraordinary. We can not wait to hear what he pulls out of his hat for his show on the Music City Roots stage.
Also on this evening’s bill is the authentic hillbilly sound of the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Centered around the talents of father/son combo Lester and Mike Armistead, plus the banjo twirling mayhem of Leroy Troy, the TMJB proudly throws back to the early Grand Ole Opry, when Roy Acuff and the Fruit Jar Drinkers held sway. And we’ll be hearing from newcomers Sugarcane Jane as well. Come out and join us in the Barn.