Submitted by Craig Havighurst on May 31, 2013 – 14:27
On the extremely rare occasion when we had not a single fiddle on stage all night, one of the best scene-setting songs over two-plus hours of music at the Loveless on Wednesday night was “Silver Fiddle” by Great American Taxi. It was about a mystical lady musician and the magic of an all night jam. And as the band filled the barn with its friendly mountain folk rock, I took in the flowing May air and reflected on these magic nights in the Spring when everything feels in balance, with stars above and a stage for exceptional talent below. We know the real thing when we feel it.
And there was Chip Taylor, opening a great set with his hit song “The Real Thing” and Aoife O’Donovan singing in a voice that could not be more authentically moving and lovely. And there was Jim Lauderdale premiering a new Robert Hunter collaboration. Seems like in some other genres, they have to keep reminding each other to keep it real. Over in Americana-land, it’s a given.
Elise Testone became our second-ever American Idol finalist on Roots (besides Paul McDonald last Fall) and she proved herself a crafty and intelligent singer and songwriter. Starting with a slow-burn minor key blues, she sculpted her lines without overdoing it. Her voice has a smoky and burnt quality, which suited her soulful country rock. I really liked “I Will Not Break” with its curling descending melody and its lush cello part by Lonnie Root. Also strong was the assertive guitar of Wallace Mullinax. That was followed by a lean and in-no-way-mean set from Patterson Barrett. This Austin-based all-around musician evoked for me the voice of Rick Danko and the spirit of The Band on his opening song “Now And Then.” (His own four-piece band including Nashville drummer and scene-maker Billy Block with his son Rocky on bass.) Barrett pared back to just acoustic guitar for the very nice “Forever Mine” and then returned with a rocking country feel on his closer.
Our crowd seemed to truly appreciate not only the music of Chip Taylor but the positive energy and humanity he radiates. When he recalled working among the legendary Brill Building songwriters of the 1960s, for example, I got the sense of a guy delighted by and grateful for but not enamored of his fascinating life story. Like I said, he opened with “The Real Thing,” a prayer to the gods of American roots music. Things got more immediate and heavy with the title track to the new project “Block Out The Sirens Of This Lonely World,” which seems to speak one-on-one with a variety of individuals about grief and recovery. That left plenty of time for two big hits – “Angel of the Morning” and “Wild Thing” – each of which earned its own standing ovation. Not to be overlooked: beautiful support and a very cool keyboard solo on “Wild Thing” by Chip’s Norwegian friend and collaborator Goran Grini.
I’ve been hyping the voice and songs of Aoife O’Donovan, and I have to think that everyone in earshot of her set last night is going to share my enthusiasm. With her delicate tone and expressive use of dynamics and phrasing, she pulls you in to already magnetic songs. She opened with a smooth, mid-tempo song of ardor and moved into a swifter, snappier “Fire Engine” which included the references that led to the title track of her solo debut album Fossils. (Release day: June 11.) Then “Beekeeper” showed her musicality with its angular chord progression and twisty melody. Her solo vocal breakdown here really amplified the drama. Aoife’s final two songs hewed more to the pure folk that we came to appreciate from her long-time band Crooked Still. “Lay My Burdens Down” floated on a strong finger-picked guitar roll, while “Oh Mama” became a warm sing-along.
And then the Great American Taxi arrived, and unlike most taxis in Nashville they moved rapidly and knew where they were going. Sounding like The Band crossed with the Allman Brothers, they sparked up the energy in the barn with “Reckless Habits” and then dove into their anthemic and beautiful “Appalachian Soul,” a heartfelt protest against mountaintop removal. Vince Herman and electric guitarist Jim Lewin swapped lead vocal duties, and Lewin took nice silky guitar leads. Our surprise of the night came late when they invited their friend and record producer Todd Snider on stage for Todd’s “Play A Train Song,” a veritable theme song for East Nashville. It was shaggy, raggy and right.
The jam was a thrilling, slippery funky take on the old Blind Willie Johnson song “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine” with time for the instrumentalists to get their licks in. And Vince Herman made up a verse about the Loveless then led an a cappella chorus. It felt like one of our biggest finishes in quite some time. And with that it was back to reality.