I’ve long maintained that if you ran the numbers, Tennessee would appear in more song lyrics than any other state. Because it rolls off the tongue. It’s got three rhythmic syllables. And it rhymes with a lot of great words. Plus it’s a pretty musical place. But it was a surprise to have two songs called “Tennessee” performed on Roots in one night. And man, they were different. Dave Coleman’s song had that serene beauty and cutting guitar tone that is his signature. Angaleena Presley’s was mournful, about an orphan kid caught up in a screwed up world she nothing to do with screwing up. But contrast is beautiful and so was the evening.

Dave is the front man of a now decade-old band called the Coal Men, though I think unlike Angaleena’s daddy and granddaddy, he hasn’t actually been a coal miner or any other kind of coal man. Instead he’s a songwriter of grace and punch. He’s got melodies all day and that great lean sound that can only come from a power trio where every member is a master of their zone. He made us all happy when he brought up Bob Delavante to sing his amazing “Columbus And The Colossal Mistake.” Dave is young enough that Bob was one of his influences, and in more recent years, Delavante acted as producer on a great Coal Men album. A tasty marriage of a couple of musicians who honor the Beatles and Buck Owens in equal measure. (And speaking of couples, congrats to Dave on his recent marriage to Stephanie! Woot!)

Aly Sutton came with a new look and a new live jingle for Vietti Chili that went over great. (Well done on the harmonies Travis.) We’ll get the back-story about this soon. More relevant to my beat was that our Vietti artist last night, Ben Cameron, exceeded all expectations. In fact I can’t remember one of our “emerging artists” having more impact. He brought a big band, with two gal backup singers, and filled the barn with a joyful, uplifting sound. He gets a lot of comparisons with Paul Simon, because of his powerful high-register voice and his often intricate use of language. Ben does evoke Simon, but also any number of great artists from that era who straddled genres and worked with bold strokes – Van Morrison, Bruce Cockburn, James Taylor, etc. The song “I Think I Know I Love You” just hit all my buttons with its epic arrangement, fat sound and genuinely moving lines. Can’t wait to see what Ben does next.

Angaleena Presley kept it more spare and definitely more country, with a blue slurry drawling sound that could help keep Music Row right with the ghost of Hank for some time if she keeps getting those radio cuts. Presley opened with “Knocked Up,” a skewed look at unintended consequences that was recently released by country artist Heidi Newfield. And she kept the double entendres coming with the risqué “3 A.M.” Then she turned the corner hard with “Tennessee,” which is the song that sold me on her songcraft talents. As she said “with me you’re either laughing or crying,” and that’s a pretty great way to describe her strong voice. Presley is shopping around her debut album, and we hope some A&R guy heard the show last night and is calling her up today.

The only act not from Tennessee last night was Big Daddy Love, but they’re from Asheville, near where North Carolina and Tennessee touch each other like two states holding hands. BDL is a down-home party/jam band with great songs and a lot of good vibes – sounding sometimes like Widespread Panic with a banjo and at others like New Grass Revival with a snarl. Brian Swenk’s banjo really lights up Dan Smith’s songs, and as a one-time bass player I’d like to tip my sombrero to Ashley Sutton for some darn good low-end work. He got his applause for his solo on the instrumental “Big Country,” but he was great throughout, and a jam band needs a great bass player. That’s the Bela Fleck “Big Country” by the way, not that British one hit wonder, and it was awesome to hear a band cover that soaring, Telluride-feeling tune. It all ended with the ensemble cast taking verses on “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad,” which was the height of hypocrisy really, given that we were all in fact, hanging out and feeling good. But it’s music, and you’re allowed some artistic license I guess.

Til next time.

Craig H.

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