Honest Abe seemed to be looking over everyone’s shoulders at last night’s Music City Roots. Mary Gauthier got very candid very fast about how the birth of her songwriting career was directly related to the end of her substance abuse years. Gabriel Kelley told us in his interview how he left behind a Music Row publishing contract because he didn’t think he could write honestly enough. Megan McCormick offered songs from her brand new Honest Words CD. And I can honestly say that it was a great show from a rangy range of artists for whom art without honesty would simply feel like fraud.
Perhaps the only duplicity of the night came from Have Gun Will Travel, our opening band out of the Tampa, FL area who, I am happy to report, arrived unarmed. They were however well outfitted with striking songs and a great ensemble feel. Brothers Matt and Danny Burke front the outfit with winning personalities and solid chops. Since they played the Americana conference a couple of years ago they’ve made stops in Music City, so if you’re into Band-like, elemental roots-and-roll, check ‘em out.
The high-energy point of last night came from our emerging artists The Honeycutters, who after a very cool pair of yearning country tunes really smoked it on a popping, swinging blues number called “Fancy Car.” Peter James really showed us his guitar skills on this one, and Amanda Anne Platt sang beautifully throughout. Love the name. Love this Western NC group.
I raved all over Megan McCormick in the pre-show blog, and I’d say she delivered, albeit with just a four-song sampler of the new album to work with. Her range was striking as she knocked off two searing electric tunes (“Shiver” and “Drifting”) before downshifting to acoustic and singing the sweet “Oh My Love” and the broken-hearted “Driveway” with great grace. It was awesome to hear a singer-songwriter handle her own guitar parts so well in a power-trio format. Most of our featured artists don’t bring dedicated guitarists as good.
Gabriel Kelley strapped a harmonica holder on in front of his big beard and gave us some meat and potatoes folk/country about identity and love. He’s a warm presence with a voice that’s worldly but not weary. And maintaining the vibe of sincerity, we wrapped with the widely admired Mary Gauthier. Her set focused on material from her early albums, including her brilliantly confessional opener “I Drink.” Backed by former Duhks fiddler Tania Elizabeth who added drunken-sounding answering lines and powerful lonesome harmonies, Gauthier showed why she penetrates. “Burning The Sugarcane” painted a complex picture of her home state of Louisiana. And when she wrapped with her magnum opus “Mercy Now,” it earned a standing ovation.
The whole gang united on stage for a rousing sing-along of “You Are My Sunshine” which seemed aimed at the pissy, rainy weather outside. I went home feeling a whole lot brighter than when I arrived after a tough day. And that’s no lie.