That Buzz We Love

Every now and then in this journal I am prompted to remark on and refresh my own appreciation for music’s capacity to surprise and thereby achieve something insanely rarified and special in this journey we call life. As we age, we are subject to repetitions of everything until, despite ourselves, we grow inured. Even in our delightfully diverse field of roots/Americana music, the nuances that distinguish one rad/trad band from another can be subtle indeed. We who adore this music can appreciate the abundant quality and integrity out there without necessarily feeling that rush of utter novelty and distinctiveness. But then, it happens. A song begins with the same old instruments but an arresting jolt. The feeling may not even be entirely pleasurable, but inexplicably electrifying.

Such was my reaction to Cicada Rhythm, a rustic yet refined duo from that geographic font of musical surprise Athens, GA. I encourage you to read their romantic origin story at our site, but in short, Andrea DeMarcus had just graduated from Juilliard with a degree on the double bass (was she trying to steal my heart?). Dave Kirslis was a modern day roustabout who’d literally taken to riding trains and teaching himself folk guitar. When they met in back in their home state of Georgia, there were sparks of all kinds, and a new partnership was launched. It’s taken just two or three years for their duo (plus extended instrumentation gig to gig) to earn a reputation for filling halls and knocking audiences out. They’re playing shows with so many of our favorite bands we’re losing count: The Honeycutters, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, HoneyHoney, Elephant Revival, Sessions Americana, and you get the idea.

For me though, the excitement comes straight off their 2015 debut self-titled album. DeMarcus and Kirslis have voices with the strength and knottiness of tone wood. They cut here and sooth there. She sounds a bit like Billie Holliday from the mountains, while her bass plays a huge role in the music’s overall tone. He bears a vocal resemblance to Oliver Wood, along with a similar rangy touch on the guitar. Their melodies course unpredictably, as in the woozy “Walking Late” and they prove they can play with timeless country simplicity on “In The Garden.” Adding to these musical delights is my fondness for cicadas, those weirdly friendly over-sized insects that periodically invade and make an unearthly sound in the trees. So in this case, the buzz on the street about them is tantamount to the buzz we feel when such intoxicating sounds are made by human folk.


For every newcomer on MCR you’ll find a veteran act with stories to tell and a track record of impacting audiences, and this week’s entry is country band Exile, a quintet with roots that stretch way back to the late 1960s. I did not know that founding member J.P. Pennington was a Berea, Kentucky native whose mom, Lily May Ledford was in the original Coon Creek Girls. Pennington took a love of Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, Little Richard and George Gershwin and made up a rock and roll band called The Exiles that went out with the early Dick Clark Caravan of Stars. The country version of the band, reconfigured and renamed a few years later, had a string of hits and continues to tour to this day with Pennington at the helm.

Waker is a really new band, at least by that name. Under the banner of KOA, longtime friends Chase Bader and Conor Kelly developed an impressive funk jam resume playing festivals including Austin City Limits and Hangout opening for killer bands such as Galactic and JJ Gray. Then they scaled up to seven-piece with horns and set out to conquer the world in 2017. I think we’re going to sail away on clouds of groove and intricate instrumental arrangements. We haven’t had that feeling on our stage in a while.

Rounding out the bill is Southern Avenue, a blues and soul band that’s been named loudly and proudly as Best Band in Memphis by the Memphis Flyer, and that’s a pretty impressive mountain on which to be top. We’ve seen part of this ensemble before when it was the Ori Naftaly Band. The namesake Israeli-born guitar slinger and blues artist teamed with vocalist Tierinii Jackson to make a band that went above and beyond Beale Street tourist fare, with impressive songwriting and stylistic integration. But then, says Naftaly in the Southern Avenue bio, they started over: “We threw out most of the songs I’d been playing in my solo band, and Tierinii and I wrote a whole new set, and we became Southern Avenue. The more we played together, the closer we got, and the more we became a family. We started getting a different kind of crowd, and from there things escalated quickly.” The escalation included touring in Europe and landing a deal to release some of the first new music by young artists in decades on legendary STAX Records. Their album comes out in February, so this will be a teaser show and a reintroduction to some passionate young Memphis musicians

Sounds like a high potential environment for musical surprise to me. We hope you’re buzzing about somebody new as you leave.

Craig H.

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