The Grass Is Bluesy

It’s hard to believe, but with this next show we’ll have reached the end of the inaugural season of Music City Roots. I’ve tried to describe each show on this blog as the weeks have gone by, but it’s really hard to adequately convey the week-to-week atmosphere in the Loveless Barn when mission control counts down the top of the show, cues our theme song and hands it off to Eddie Stubbs to announce that we’re on the air. Live radio has an energy about it that’s unique, and co-producers Todd Mayo and John Walker wanted every episode to mingle that throwback integrity with a weekly sampler of what the best of what Nashville is doing today. We all owe them sincere thanks for taking risks and giving this show so much thought and hard work.

That said, I’m looking forward to our December 16 show and its double shot of state-of-the-art bluegrass. Mountain Heart and Cherryholmes are each fascinating in their own way, and their stories are much too involved to tell here. But here’s what you need to know if you haven’t been keeping up with them.

Cherryholmes burst on the scene about four years ago with a live show that left people breathless and a story unlike anything else in the music. They were a large family living in East Los Angeles who’d had only a bit of experience with folk music when, after the tragic loss of a daughter, they sort of adopted bluegrass instruments and music as a family project. Somehow or other, every one of the four kids demonstrated prodigious talent, and father Jere on bass and mom Sandy on mandolin have molded everyone into a tight and blazing unit. They won IBMA’s Entertainer of the Year prize in 2005 and all three of their albums are keepers. But again, its their show that places them in the forefront of the music today.

Mountain Heart started out as a relatively traditional bluegrass band in 1999, albeit with an intensity that suggested a strong influence of rock and roll. These days, with the relatively recent addition of lead vocalist Josh Shilling, MH can’t really be pigeonholed. Clearly, with banjo player Barry Abernathy providing the Earl Scruggs rolling thunder, bluegrass is in their genes. But like the Steeldrivers or John Cowan’s band, the very quality of Shilling’s voice lays a soul/blues/R&B feeling over the whole thing. They’ll slay you with a Bill Monroe tune and then play Stevie Wonder or one of Shilling’s remarkable hybrid tunes. It’s something to hear.

Rounding out the night will be singer/songwriter Chris Volpe, a smart and sincere folk artist who’ll get you with bold thoughts delivered with understatement. And because it’s Christmas, we’re bringing in the chiming, glimmering tones of the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble. This year the group lost its wonderful founder and leader Butch Baldassari to cancer, but they carry on, making sonic magic that’s perfect for the holiday.

So come out for our season ender. We’ll take a couple weeks off and be back on January 6th with Donna The Buffalo, Tim O’Brien, Chuck Mead, Kristi Rose & Fats Kaplin and The Believers.

Craig H

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