In the Fall of 2011 the Americana Music Association was set to give a lifetime achievement award to Rick Hall, founder of FAME Studio and architect of the Muscle Shoals success story. They could have called on any number of people to present the honor at the Ryman Auditorium, but in selecting Candi Staton, the AMA did her and the rest of us a great service. There were certainly some super fans of American soul in the house who knew Staton as an underappreciated gem. For me and many others, though she was a revelation, beaming with love and integrity. Performing with the amazing house band and the McCrary Sisters, she lit up the South’s greatest concert hall with a yearning and exquisite “Heart On A String.” I asked AMA boss Jed Hilly about it this week and he said it was one of his most emotional memories.
The rediscovery is ongoing. The Bitter Southerner blog included Candi’s “I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool)” on a list of 10 overlooked Southern soul classics. She was the only woman on the list, alongside singers like Arthur Alexander and O.V. Wright. She appeared in the celebrated documentary Muscle Shoals and landed a performance on Letterman’s Late Night show as part of that adventure. And her 2014 release Life Happens garnered terrific press, like a remarkable interview in Paste where she talks about growing up in rural Alabama with a coal mining dad, no electricity in the house and only a battery powered radio to bring the world in. She was forbidden from listening to juke joint music from Memphis, though she was fascinated. The Grand Ole Opry was okay with her mom. “That’s why I’m tri-part gospel, country and blues,” she said. “That’s where my style came from.”
And that’s what you find as you browse through her catalog. Rick Hall heard Staton when he was at the height of his run with Aretha Franklin, yet he considered Candi’s voice as great a gift. Their early 70s Muscle Shoals sides are brilliant. Keeping up with the times, Staton joined the disco trend and made some dang good records in that limited space, including a big hit called “Young Hearts Run Free” that became the title track of one of her career anthologies. For years, Staton recorded only gospel music but recently she reclaimed her soul roots in sessions reuniting her with Rick Hall for the Life Happens album, which showcases her songwriting skills as well.
Candi is part of what I guarantee will be a fascinating night at Roots. Because we’re also touching on mystical solo guitar, smoking blues rock and sophisticated string ensemble newgrass. We’re nothing if not well rounded.
William Tyler has recorded with Candi Staton in the past and is a huge fan. His booking on this show came about in loose synchronicity with hers, and it appears he’ll be in her band besides playing on his own. What does William Tyler do on his own? I’d describe it as concept-heavy instrumental music for solo guitar. Sometimes it’s layered with loops and effects and sometimes it’s more like lyrical musing. Not only is this approach to music rare in Nashville, but his success in this rather esoteric field has been dramatic by Nashville standards. He plays nation-wide at high end performing arts centers like our own OZ. He was a guest performer at the far-reaching Big Ears festival in Knoxville this year, where I saw his moody and captivating Corduroy Roads show, a rumination of the post Civil War South with readings, photography and guitar music. My favorite exposure to Tyler’s music prior to that was his 2013 album Impossible Truth, a sparkling beautiful soundscape recording. Reviewing it on my blog then I described Tyler as “a Nashville native and a renaissance guy. He’s been a key member of the art-folk band Lambchop and a valued sideman who’s worked with Charlie Louvin, The Silver Jews and Candi Staton among others. He’s also now a scene-maker as proprietor of the beloved Stone Fox venue.” So it was inevitable he’d find his way to our stage.
By coincidence this is a strong week for instrumental focus, and I’m wildly excited to welcome the trio of Brittany Haas (fiddle), Paul Kowert (bass) and Jordan Tice (guitar). These are virtuosos from some of the most interesting and exciting bands in acoustic music – Crooked Still, Punch Brothers and Tony Trischka’s ensemble respectively. But they’ve known one another through music circles for years and began collaborating when they were music students at three different colleges. They’ve made time to continue working on their daring, beautiful and intricate compositions even as their other projects have taken off. They are continuing a very important bluegrass/classical/jazz hybrid that was pioneered by Edgar Meyer, Béla Fleck and others. I’ll be on the edge of my seat.
Rounding out our night and new to me will be Brian James & The Revival, a high energy blues inspired guitarist and songwriter who’s been settled into Nashville for some years now. Some fans of Roots have told us about loving Brian at places like Kimbro’s so at last he’ll make our scene. With influences like Jonny Lang, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, we can expect fire and control. The band won a recent Nashville Blues Challenge, so there’s a lot going on right now for James.
You should be wary of strangers with candy, but we’re friends with Candi, and much more besides, so it should be a sweet and soulful evening.