Touching The Sky

Musical innovation is a slippery, ill-defined concept. Does it live in novel melodies, or mash-ups of styles? Is it something made by fingers on frets or in the minds of the audience? I suppose it falls in the I-know-it-when-I-hear-it category. Or I could just point you to a Cadillac Sky show. Ostensibly a “bluegrass” band, the five C-Sky guys are an ever-changing ensemble of artists who absorb top flight influences but who make sure that what comes out the other end of their creative black box is always searching and never derivative.

The first things many of us heard from this Texas-born band was “Born Lonesome,” the first track off their debut album on Skaggs Family Records. It had significant bluegrass pedigree, with superior instrumental chops, the strong, high vocals of Bryan Simpson and, of course, that title and the lonesome lyrics that went with it. Since then we’ve heard them venture far out of Bill Monroe-approved territory into experimental rock and a viciously effective cover of “Video Killed The Radio Star.” And this spring they’ll be releasing a new album produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys that sounds nothing like what they’ve done before. More ambient and less formal, it’ll surprise old fans and win new ones. Innovation, for sure.

This episode of Music City Roots should be plenty special. Because not only do we have Cadillac Sky, we’re fortunate to be visited by the Band of Heathens, which may sound to the uninitiated like being ransacked by Visigoths, but not at all. These guys became virtual overnight sensations in their tough hometown of Austin TX by putting on one of the best live shows in the biz. Born when three individual singer/songwriters who shared a night at Austin’s Momo’s club began sitting in with each other, and named when a local paper mis-billed them as The Heathens, these guys were named best new band at the Austin Music Awards in 2007. They’ve won the love of Austin musical royalty for their stripped down, classic approach, eerily reminiscent of The Band or Little Feat. It’s pure music for purists.

Also on this super-sized bill, some bluegrass that doesn’t bother with innovation so much as integrity. The Gibson Brothers have captured the market in the classic sibling harmony duo sound that made the 1930s and 40s so important to country music. Eric and Leigh have been working the circuit over a dozen years or more, releasing nine albums and just getting better all the while. Their current release is Ring The Bell on Compass, and it’s gorgeous. Better yet to hear them sing live with their five piece band. It’s a jolt of deep tradition, made fresh through their insightful and enthralling songwriting.

We’re also delighted to welcome relative newcomers Pokey LaFarge, a vintage-toned artist out of Kentucky who inhabits the 78 RPM past and sings like there’s no tomorrow, plus The Apache Relay, a more progressive Americana/’grass band that came out of the youthful musical ferment at Belmont University. I haven’t heard either group live yet, but word is both are sensational.

I suppose the only possible knock on the impressive diversity of this lineup is it’s an all-male affair, with plenty of beards. But we’ll be balancing that out the following week with Maura O’Connell, Alison Brown and our own Aly Sutton.

Come out early for this one. We’re pretty sure it’s going to draw a happy mob.

Craig H.

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