“I welcome other people and their musicianship,” says Barry Waldrep in the making-of documentary DVD inside his new jam-fest of an album, Smoke From The Kitchen. It’s an understated comment on the spirit of these latest sessions, but having gotten to know Barry as we have at Roots, it’s clearly a philosophy that’s guided him through a fascinating career. He’s an instigator, innovator and collaborator. He may not be a big star but he’s on the all-star team. Barry returns this week for his fourth band-leading set at Roots, yet it’ll the fourth different band. With some this might be a sign of instability; with Barry it’s an extension of his curiosity and inclusive spirit.
Barry and MCR first came together in 2011 when he came up from his Atlanta base with the young folks in Flatt Lonesome, band he’d discovered walking the halls at a bluegrass convention and whom he’d pursued as a producer and mentor. Waldrep, we learned, was also a degree or two of separation away from a whole lot of other musicians we loved and respected. He founded Rollin’ In The Hay in 1993, a progressive bluegrass band that became one of the best loved, hardest touring ensembles in the region. His speedy picking on guitar, banjo and other instruments became legendary among fellow musicians, and in recent years he’s collaborated with Zac Brown, Joey & Rory and members of the Allman Brothers.
Now, Smoke From The Kitchen finds him mashing bluegrass with Southern rock and jazz, alongside some incredibly distinguished colleagues. Bass player Oteil Burbridge is a big jamming deal for his years with the Aquarium Rescue Unit and the Allman Brothers. Also on the project piano/keyboard hero Chuck Leavell and Marshall Tucker Band founding member Paul Riddle on drums. Perhaps most fun for Waldrep were mandolin parts added by the great David Grisman (the only musician on the project not from around Barry’s home in Atlanta but from the Bay Area in California). One of my heroes as well, Grisman helped pioneer newgrass and jazz crossover acoustic music, and he made iconic recordings with Jerry Garcia, Tony Rice and others, all while proving his ability to play traditional American music at the highest levels. It’s a coup to have him on the non-categorizable Smoke From The Kitchen project. So all in all, it’s a breezy listen that reminds me of driving the Blue Ridge Parkway – always another beautiful variation on a theme around the next bend. They mix original instrumentals and songs with covers of classics like “Dig A Hole” and ”Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning” with a feel that evokes New Grass Revival and the Allman Brothers in equal measure.
“I don’t know what you would call this, maybe Southern Americana,” Barry told me by email. “All of these people are very passionate about music, but all are unique in their style of playing. When I called them, I said come in and do what you do, and I will do my thing and it will be real no matter what happens.” When I last checked in, Otiel Burbridge and Paul Riddle were confirmed in the band for his sets at MCR on Wednesday and Scenic City Roots on Thursday, which is very exciting for us.
One couldn’t find a more appropriate compliment to a Barry Waldrep visit than a set by the Carter Brothers, for they exude the same ethos of updating roots music of many kinds while embracing the freedom of jazz and jam. Tim and Danny have been performing together for almost 30 years as pros, not counting growing up in North Carolina together in the thrall of traditional music. They have a family line to THAT Carter Family, and they’re keeping that torch lit with an appreciation for country, folk and bluegrass that’s neither hidebound nor flighty. I can imagine with the Carter boys and Barry’s team on stage the Loveless Jam could go on a while this week.
The rest of the bill is an exciting blend of emerging artists from the US and the UK. From South Wales is celebrated sextet Rusty Shackle, which released its second album in 2013. They’re booked to play Glastonbury this year, so that tells you something about the buzz surrounding them on their home turf. The delightfully named Mingo Fishtrap is a group of former jazz students from the University of North Texas (where Norah Jones studied, for one) who turned in a deep south direction and concocted their own sound rooted in Memphis and New Orleans traditions. They’re based now in Austin and they are joining us on an album release week, which always raises the energy level. It’s called On Time, so we expect them to be punctual. And also watch for Texan turned Nashvillian Cale Tyson, who sings blue yodeling old school country. His current EP is called High On Lonesome, so you can see where he’s coming from.
This all looks like it’s going to flow together really well. Besides the usual crop of inventive songwriters, we’ve got some impressive improvisers and hot pickers coming to our barn. Or maybe this week we should call it a smokehouse.