The Humbler Index

I’m a bit of a statistics geek, so let me try a new musical metric out on you.

Think of a musical artist and give him/her/them two scores. X is how good they are, on a scale of 1-100 (obviously subjective, but that’s okay). The other, Y, is how famous they are. One means they have no fans and no friends and they’ve never left their mother’s basement, while 100 is, oh, U2. The number to pay attention to is the difference between those ratings, or X-Y. Let’s call it their Humbler Score, after the nickname of Danny Gatton, the late great DC area guitar player who is in my estimation one of the least-known geniuses of the 20th century. His X would be in the 90s and his Y would be below 20, so Gatton would have a whopping 70+ Humbler Score. Are ya with me?

I’ve always been drawn to artists with high Humbler Scores. I’m always asking ‘why isn’t so-and-so more famous and successful?’ Is the system working against them? Are they their own worst enemy? How can they find the audience they deserve? I think it’s because I enjoy finding out about something great early on. And I think it’s because we can advance the cause of music most by paying attention to the careers of those who haven’t picked the lock of stardom – yet.

What on Earth am I getting at? Well it’s all a big elaborate way of saying that this week on Music City Roots, we don’t have any ringers. No legends. No celebs. We’ve got four great acts whose skill, vision and artistry, FOR THE TIME BEING, outstrips their notoriety. They have healthy Humbler Scores, and while most other shows would be fretting about butts-in-seats and unfamiliarity factor, we are thrilled beyond measure to be fulfilling one key part of our mission at Roots – to discover and expose fabulous talent whom you need to know.

I shall not assign scores to these fine musicians because that would be arbitrary and rude. But in no particular order, here’s who you’ll be seeing on Wednesday at the Loveless Barn.

Ben Cameron has just released his self-titled debut album, made here in town where he lives. And East Nashville keyboard maven Jen Gunderman acted as producer. I caught Cameron this year at the 12 S. Tap Room and he was exceptional, with compact intelligent melodies and a croony, emotional voice. Touches from 70s pop make a great retro overlay to his contemporary songwriter material.

Angaleena Presley is a strong drink of whiskey, raised in the adorably named Beauty, Kentucky. Now based in Nashvegas as a staff writer for Ten Ten Music (home of hitmakers and high Humbler Scorers alike), she’s turning heads with a blazingly truthful songwriting style and a cool hillbilly hipster voice. A friend slipped me an album-length recording that I don’t think is out yet, but it’s a revelation. She’s in your face with songs like “Knocked Up,” which puts a humorous twist on the shotgun wedding, and she slays with character development in “Tennessee” about an orphan girl biding her time in the foster care system. I’m a huge fan and hope you will be too.

The Coalmen are one of two acts this week that have already played the show. They’re a spring-loaded alt-country band with a taste for 60s pop, and leader Dave Coleman is a bold and brilliant singer and guitar player. I love this quote from Dave in the band’s current bio: “Everything’s got to be so damn entertaining and so damn beautiful. Whenever you see something with subtlety, like a live show with dynamic range, or hear a song with a little depth, it’s hard to cut through to people who are bashed over the head with volume up to 10 entertainment. Everything can start to sound the same.” That may not help you understand what his music sounds like, but it does give you insight into his approach.

We’ve had Big Daddy Love around before too, and they left big love in their wake, though no paternity suits of which I’m aware. Appalachian Rock they call it, and we’ll buy that. Our pal Jim Lauderdale called them “Western North Carolina sockin’ it to ya.” Those hippie newspapers up there ‘round Asheville love em. We’ll jam out with them and have a great time.

So please come join us for a night of discovery and artistry. And in the meantime, I’d be interested in your nominations for artists with the biggest Humbler Scores. Drop a line.

Craig H

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