If you’re reading this in our Factory home or in the Nashville area, you’re sitting at one corner of the Americana Music Triangle. Does that come as a surprise? If you haven’t heard about this yet, you will this Spring when it launches formally after a few years of behind the scenes work and development. This initiative, based right in our venue’s home town of Franklin, ties together states, cities and cultural institutions in a way meant to help the world discover the history and geography of American roots music. The triangle, anchored by Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans, spans the South, the cradle of all American popular music and the birthplace of one of the greatest cultural explosions in the history of humanity. It will coordinate cultural sites and drives like the Mississippi Blues Trail, pointing pilgrims to shrines and tourists to weigh stations where they can participate in the story of the blues, country, bluegrass, rock and roll, gospel and soul. It’ll be a great venture, and we certainly look forward to being one of those destinations for international visitors seeking the magic of America’s musical legacy.
I thought about the Americana Music Triangle this week as I pondered our lineup for Feb. 11. Even more than most weeks it taps the full range of classic American roots and in some cases re-mixes them in crafty ways. We’ll hear from a big Nashville band that borrows from second line jazz, Staxy soul and Southern hip-hop. We’ve got a blues man from Jackson, MS who knows no boundaries. And we close the show with a nod to Sun Records and blistering early rock and roll.
The latter is our friend Jason D. Williams, madman of the boogie woogie piano. He arrived in our lives on a winter’s night in 2011 at the Loveless. Gobsmacked, I wrote this the next morning: “The barn became a honky tonk and a church at the same time. (Williams) beamed a thousand watt smile. He played behind his back. He played lying down on the top of the piano, and did a tumbling routine off onto the floor. . . And he pulled the audience in with funny, sometimes strange and rambling banter. No wonder this guy’s reputation precedes him; he’s full-on Dixie dynamite.” In the years since, Jason D. has made an album with Todd Snider and further burnished his reputation as a must-see roots artist. The piano is under-represented in today’s Americana scene, but it wasn’t always thus. Jason D. will take you back to a time when Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Professor Longhair drove that amazing percussion instrument with 88 keys into the rock and roll history books.
Our bluesman, the latest in a string of striking young phenoms to grace our stage, is Jarekus Singleton. He’s an intense 30-year-old who has clearly paid some dues but whose musical dreams seem to be panning out. His debut album just came out on the legendary indie label Alligator Records (Albert Collins, Koko Taylor and recently on our stage Selwyn Birchwood). He and the project have already been nominated for multiple Blues Music Awards. Singleton told a radio interviewer that the album’s title Refuse To Lose sums up his approach to life, and indeed there’s steel in this guy’s delivery and guitar playing. The title track is one of the best riffs on the “nothing’s going to stop me” theme I can recall, with its patient approach to delivering the words and great dialogue between voice and guitar. And Jarekus can play that “six-string girlfriend” too brother, with a scorchy, burnt tone and clear melodic statements. He can also smoke it slowly with a jazzy passion that suggests Carlos Santana. I predict many of you, not least our boss John Walker, will come unglued over Singleton’s singular style.
I want to also be sure to direct your attention to our opening set, where we’ll start the show with a blast of horn power and a rhythmic foundation that’s uncommon even on our stage. The Megaphones are Nashville’s dangdest fusion band, a wild experiment that’s been coming together over the past three years under the direction of native Nashville saxophonist (and MCR Alum) Rahsaan Barber. The vision starts with a New Orleans ready brass band capable of butt-shaking funk or second-line strut. The horn players are some of the city’s best jazz guys, so they can play and interact with ease. Then on top of that, you’ll see not one vocalist but two – liquid singer Jason Eskridge plus eminent rapper Crisis – who play off one another dazzlingly. They call it hip-hop soul; it’s that and more. They’ve been honing their sophisticated party sound for a while, but they released their debut EP just a couple of months ago, so Music City is still getting to know them. I don’t know a finer or more complete expression of the New Nashville than the Megaphones.
Rounding out the bill will be a couple fellows I’ll be hearing for the first time. Seth Glier is a very busy songwriter and artist who fuses love songs with a social conscience. He’s evolved from acoustic music to modern pop through canny collaborations. And he’s a veteran of Daytrotter and the Cayamo Cruise among other laurels, enjoying great press love on the way. And John Paul Keith cycles us back to Memphis, because he’s a guitar-slinging artist who embraces that city’s century of soul and rock and roll. He’s a working colleague of the divine Amy LaVere and he’s the new band leader for the awesome Thacker Mountain Radio show. AllMusic calls him a “power pop savior.” I’m more than a lot intrigued.
So triangulate your way over to Music City Roots this week, where we’ll present all points of the musical compass. You may fall off the radar and get lost forever in the Americana Music Triangle, but we’ve been living that way for years now and we’re that much happier for it.