One of Dale Ann Bradley’s many gifts is an ability to make over carefully chosen pop songs is a bluegrass way, and in that spirit she’s covered the old Seals & Crofts tune “Summer Breeze” on her new CD. She, a three-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year and I, who once won a popsicle stick plaque for being more or less on time to things, talked about that new track and new record last night on stage at the Loveless. And while Dale Ann didn’t perform “Summer Breeze,” her show-opening appearance set a breezy, easy tone for a great night at Music City Roots.
After a week of wall-to-wall bluegrass and a week of wall-to-wall singer/songwriters, it was nice to get back to an eclectic survey of sounds and to welcome some global talent. Dale Ann put us in a deep country place, singing a killer Louvin Brothers duet with old friend Steve Gulley and with the Pam Tillis-penned CD title track “Somewhere South of Crazy.” Then it was off to another country entirely with a visit from McPeake, a family band that’s been at the center of Irish folk music for decades. The opening tune paired the fiddle and Uilleann pipes in a big pulse with jagged beats that segued into a brisk reel. Peter Wallace showed off gorgeous vocal pipes from his one-man-bandstand with drums and guitars at his side. The crowd loved his passionate interpretation of “Elanor Rigby” and rewarded the flying fingers of the band on their closer “Flying Carpet” with a standing ovation.
Then it was on to The Wrights, with the vocal and personal chemistry of husband and wife Adam and Shannon. I gushed about these guys on the air last night and I hope I wasn’t gross. I just can’t get over what a fresh take they bring to country music. And while their recent album is quite airy and indie feeling, their set last night was twangy, bluesy and Southern. “Bonnie Brown” delivered close harmony chills and front porch groove. “We’ll All Drink Money” was a dark and funny song inspired by the recent Georgia drought. If you ever loved George & Tammy or Conway & Loretta, the finest inheritors of that tradition today are The Wrights. Five songs was too little.
NewFound Road always finds a way to surprise, even as they hew to a fairly classic take on bluegrass music. Tim Shelton’s voice is a big magnificent instrument, and he showed it off in fine form on “Try To Be” and “Middle Age Crazy.” But then the guys kind of broke it down and offered some creative staging. I knew Josh Miller was a great banjo player but he smoked on a lead vocal – indeed a solo performance stroking guitar and singing the mysterious “Black Adder’s Cove” with a touch of haunting harmony from Tim. Then the band departed and left Joe Booher and his mandolin up alone on center stage. He proceeded to blow everybody away with an instrumental solo that evoked Sam Bush, David Grisman and Chris Thile in equal parts. His bravura performance brought much of the house to its feet, and then the band returned to roll into a head turning cover of the Bill Withers standard “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Another case of bluegrass growing over a pop song and making it look great.
Lastly, we enjoyed the company and craft of The Greencards, that power sometime-trio/sometime-quartet with roots in Australia and Appalachia. Last night Infamous Stringduster Andy Hall sat in with the band, adding his dobro blues to the rushing newgrass sound. I admit by that point of the evening I was enjoying the company of distinguished visitors like Jon Byrd and Ruby Amanfu and listening without the note-taking part of my brain. But I will say the long and grooving “Make It Out West” with its joyful vocal refrain and icy sliding riff made a great set closer and setup for the Loveless Jam. For that, host Jim Lauderdale reached into the Bill Monroe songbook (we’re celebrating his 100th birth year after all) and had the gang fire up “Blue Night.” Great song, even if there was nothing sad or lonesome about last night. It was all ease. Pure summer.