I’ve been on a personal side trip lately into modern music, attending and listening to works that are far out by our show’s rootsy standards. I grew up with lots of classical music and jazz in my life and on my music stands, and I go through phases where I crave sonic adventure and weirdness. With three great concerts by contemporary ensembles or composers in the last two weeks, I’m on a roll, and my ears and brain have been all “whoa, hey, what’s that, wow” or something like that. Contrast that, dear readers, with this week’s Roots, which was a meat-and-potatoes, straight-shootin’, fastballs-down-the-middle kind of show. I don’t mean it was bland or boring by any means. Just archetypal Americana styles done well, with boldly sung soul and pop, sweet folk harmonies and some straight-up, skinny jean rock and roll.
Jim Lauderdale opened the night with a song I haven’t heard in ages and one I don’t think he’s ever done on our stage, the title track of the late 90s album Onward Through It All. Seems like a good depiction of what it’s going to take to survive what apparently will be five months of winter. Ugh.
Much brighter and hotter was Kim Logan, with flaming red hair, red velvet hip huggers and an orange archtop electric guitar. The East Nashville singer is schooled in high opera and down home soul, and she’s as likely to bust out crafty covers as originals. And her originals, like the Bo Diddley beat opener “Lolita” sound like they’ve been on shelves since the 60s. Logan (backed by an expertly eclectic five-piece band) offered an emotional, soaring take on Randy Newman’s “Guilty” and a super-fun shimmy-shaky “Niki Hoeky” (Aretha/P.J. Proby cover), which I think marks the first time the lyric “you oh-booga-boo you / Get hip to the conversation / Of the boolawee” has been sung on our stage. The final song, “Gentleman,” with its film noir vibe, smoky saxophone and striking vocal summed up the original, mod/retro package that is Kim Logan.
There are some singers for whom I feel our microphones are just not expensive enough, and Kristina Train is one of them. The new Nashville transplant has an especially rich and lustrous voice, plus a keen sense of timing and dynamics to go with it. What ensued had shades of Roy Orbison, Dianna Krall and k.d. lang. The modest 6/8 time shuffle of “I’m Wandering” and the countrypolitan tone of “Dream Of Me” came from a place of classic pop, while her folkier side showed on “Root Down.” She sang with breezy sweetness about her hometown of Savanna, GA. It all worked its way up to the finale “If You Want Me” which had the deepest groove and perhaps the most space for her voice to lift off. The electric guitar duo of John Jackson and Paul Olsen really sparkled up the soundscape. Kristina has new management, and if this band is any indication of the current direction, I’d add the very classy Ms. Train to your list of artists to follow in the year ahead.
The Texas roots of Dawn & Hawkes shimmer through their music like heat ripples over I-10. She (Miranda) is an Austin native and he (Chris) is from North Texas. Their personal chemistry translates directly into musical chemistry. And they slot right into that easy-on-the-ears duo space where we find Bruce Robison/Kelly Willis or Brennan Leigh & Noel McKay. Current EP title track “Golden Heart” had a cheerful groove and warm colors. It was followed by the sweetly romantic “Yours & Mine,” which was made of many couplets about couplehood. Chris showed terrific acoustic guitar chops by setting down a cool riff/theme for “Life Is A Good Song” and playing a swift solo on the dark and brooding “Holler.” Closer “Silver Line” featured nicely woven vocal parts and a comforting refrain reminding us that “we’re not so alone.”
I joke about skinny jeans, but Devan DuBois and his four-man band did made a hip picture on stage, with a sound that was similarly up to date and throwback. They came out rockin’ like the Stones on “Other Lovers” while “Don’t Let Me Get Lonely” got a bit bluesier with tight slide electric guitar from Evan Weatherford. The moodier “Long Way Down” floated on warbling organ by Tyler James. And closer “Anita” was a pure 1970s folk rock anthem that fit with the comfort of worn, patched denim.
The show was conservative by another measure – one that’s invisible to our fans. For the first time ever, without even really trying, we hit every time cue virtually to the minute and closed out the Nashville Jam (a joyful, swaying take on Leadbelly’s “Midnight Special” at just a little past 9 pm. I don’t even think anybody knocked over a Blackstone beer bottle. Next time I’ll bring some of my friends from classical music over to the Factory. Then things’ll get weird.