“Gonna make you feel like it’s 1962,” sang Tim Easton on the Loveless stage in the song “Little Doggie.” And not only did he achieve that on Wednesday night with his rockabilly-tinged set, the show hit quite a few notes that seemed to conjure up that bygone time. Did you know that Jimi Hendrix got out of the Army and moved to Nashville in 1962? That’s how he came to befriend our guest artist Nick Nixon, who served up blues that would have sounded quite smart back then. And our second act, the large and lustrous Magnolia Sons, channeled the spirit and sound of Motown from right around that time. It was a heady time 1962, with idealism high and rock and roll fully underway. The turmoil had not yet begun to stir. We’re thrilled when music takes us to more innocent and escapist times and places; sometimes that’s the point.
If you’d asked me three weeks ago what Tim Easton reminds me of, I’d have said Steve Earle, 70s Dylan, The Band and Tom Petty. Now that his new Not Cool album is out, I could add Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, early Johnny Cash. He came out to open the show with a muscular and skilled five-piece band that included upright bass and fiddle, plus the crunching electricity of guitarist JD Simo. “Don’t Lie” and “Troubled Times” set the tone with greasy, behind-the-beat grooves and crackling vocals. The wonderful “Four Queens” saw Simo don an acoustic metal body guitar and dial up the bluesy feeling from high to highest. Then they closed the set with raucous, almost punky energy in a demo of pure roots rock and roll.
Set number two was one of those Nashville reveals when an act I’ve never seen before just slays me. Magnolia Sons is an 11-piece throwback soul/R&B band that makes their own Wall of Sound. And let’s be clear, from that early/high Motown base, there’s plenty of room for original ideas and expression, and these guys made it happen. The horn section and rhythm section clicked together like puzzle pieces, while the vocal attack from two men and two women up front (looking splendidly 60s and coordinated by the way) was just heart-stopping. Complex harmonies and great arrangements made for a rush of emotion, and nobody seemed to be having more fun than that band. Except maybe us.
The group fronted by that pal of Hendrix was next, as the Andy T/Nick Nixon Band took the stage. This was straight-up and classic 12-bar blues, sung by a master working with a dynamic seven-piece that knew the drill. Andy T plays lead guitar while Nick holds down rhythm with touches on a Telecaster. Beside’s Nixon’s lubricated and luxurious singing, he’s got a pretty stout “yeeeeaaaahh!” too. Standing out as well were the tone-rich sax solos of Dana Robbins, who’s played with Delbert and Aretha among others. The group built to the funky and funny “Have You Seen My Monkey” and the standing O that ensued. And that led to a shift of gears with The Smoking Flowers, the duo of Kim and Scott Collins. Both have been in beloved Nashville rock bands, so we might have guessed this wouldn’t be mincing or meek, and it was not. “White Flags” began as rumble and roll that exploded into a two-chord power chorus. They went spare and acoustic (with Kim on accordion) for “El Matador” and then plugged in again for the triumphant refrains of “Young And Brave.” Finale “One Friend” was just a clean and simple song with a sentiment that resonated with the audience.
My conceit of the night as a time machine back to 1962 breaks down a little with the guitar duo of Chris Eldridge and Julian Lage, given their modernist take on bluegrass and jazz. But I will say that the 60s was a time when the mainstream embraced and extolled instrumental music, as it should do again. I was transfixed as two of my favorite guitarists launched their set with a drifty original tune that passed a simple theme back and forth. After that the set proved less instrumental than I thought it would be. Chris did a great job singing Norman Blake’s wonderful “Ginseng Sullivan” and later “Mean Mother Blues,” a song that’s too rarely covered. In between Eldridge vocalized on the jazz standard “Someone To Watch Over Me” while Julian did the solo guitar backup, including a breathtaking solo that earned its own applause. But for me the treat was the duo playing, which was communicative, daring and just complicated enough. They snake and skitter all over the neck, using slides and rippling runs, and they always remained bound by a sense of responsibility to the melody. Immaculate stuff.
The Loveless Jam shifted gears back to the blues and back in time as Jim Lauderdale led a big boisterous take on “Got My Mojo Working,” which included stellar singing by all and solos from JD Simo and Dana Robbins that were on their own worth driving out to the Loveless for. If only gas cost what it did in 1962.