We missed one another. Two weeks off from Music City Roots between seasons is absolutely necessary for everyone involved, and the team continues to work during the lulls on video shoots, radio syndication and future plans. But there’s nothing like being together under the sweeping roof of the Loveless Cafe. There were extra twinkly lights strung across the barn last night and a hint of honeysuckle in the air as we closed in on 7 pm and the first strains of Rob Ickes’s dobro on our especially appropriate theme song: “Born In A Barn.”
I knew it would be a night of discovery for me, with four of the five acts quite newly on my radar. But the booking team hasn’t let me down yet and their track record remains intact. I could tell Gareth Dunlop has a special voice and touch from a few online tracks. When he opened his set in lone troubadour mode, he did so courageously by dialing the energy down to soft and easy levels. But with an assertive finger picking and a voice rich like an old viola, he riveted everyone in a few notes. That song was “What’s On Your Mind,” but it’s the follow up “Fool’s Desire” that I’ve now really latched on to. It would sound utterly natural and I’m not sure any better coming from Sam Cooke. Dunlop is from Belfast, Northern Ireland, so watch for inevitable comparisons to Van Morrison. Thing is, they’ll be deserved.
The LA old-time country duo known as the Driftwood Singers didn’t give me a chance to love them online, because their decision to release debut recordings made on a hand-held cassette recorder wasn’t my idea of inspiration. Just a high noise to signal ratio. However, the live set is completely engaging, with hints of the early impressions made by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Their voices buzzed together beautifully on “Tennessee Honey” and they lent a fresh feel to classic form on “I Don’t Live Here Anymore.” The story setup to “Come Across The Tracks” evoking Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart as young cousins, and the song itself, were great.
Our recent string of guests from Australia continued with the deep country and folk of Audrey Auld. She hails from Tasmania but now lives amid gardens and chickens in East Nashville, where she writes clever and memorable songs like “I’d Leave Me Too.” Imagine a shuffle and a twangy guitar intro (provided last night by fellow Aussie and Americana artist Anne McCue) and you could write the song yourself. Except you didn’t come up with that awesome hook. “Nails” was set to a fat railroad beat, and she opined on the steady toll of the years in “Forty.” Auld is a gifted entertainer as well, commanding the stage during and between songs.
I’d heard great things about Jabe Beyer, including from his sideman guitarist Audley Freed, who is parsimonious with musical compliments. And I knew that East Nashville has its contemporary Bob Dylans and Grams Parsons, but I didn’t know it had a Springsteen. Stout and loud, the band thundered and Beyer’s voice soared over it with power and literary grace. On “You’re Too Much,” all-star sidewoman Jen Gunderman stunned with powerful harmony vocals. The whole song just lifted off. Beyer brought the tempo down for “Highway Eyes,” which featured Freed sliding a bottle neck around his gold top Les Paul, a sound for the ages. Yeah, it’s rare bands get that loud at Music City Roots, and when they do they’d better be dang great, but Beyer was.
I wrote a lot about The Vespers in my preview blog, and we got the set we’d anticipated. Tight and passionate and involving, they have forged a truly unique sound. The voices of the Cryar sisters together makes the air tremble. The Jones brothers lay down punchy rhythm. We certainly wish them all the best as they take their brand new sophomore album to the people. And we hope they remember us when they’re really famous.
So how better to end a night of constant joy than with “Man Of Constant Sorrow”? Our host Jim Lauderdale, back after some travels, led one of the finest Loveless Jams in memory, with quality verses from everybody and a sweet solos by Jen Gunderman on accordion and Anne McCue on guitar. Everything clicked. A harbinger of spring.