A great show has the stuff you were expecting when you came and the surprises that you can never plan for. And there were at least two moments last night when I was caught up short and left with nothing but a smile. First was our “emerging artist” band The Drunk Uncles who topped off a killer set of Waylon-worthy country music with a guest appearance by Larry Cordle (about whom more later). And the other was the third song in Monte Montgomery’s five song set when I was thinking ‘hey this is pretty great; I wonder if it’s working for the crowd?’ and all of a sudden he ends the tune and like four fifths of the house leap to their feet and go bananas in one of the most flash mobbish standing Os I’ve seen. No wonder Monte’s set closer was called “Shock.” Shock and awe, to coin a phrase.
I knew the chemistry was going to be good. We had four very different acts who nonetheless made for some silky smooth segues. Our kicker offer was the irreplaceable Phil Lee. I swear sometimes I think he’s an ageless 600-year-old monk who figured out the secret to longevity and happiness is music, an epic sense of humor and an East Nashville address. As a songwriter, he’s a funny Bob Dylan. Spiritually, he’s the Americana Yoda, with jokes. Phil offered up one of his most endearing and hilarious songs, “Les Debris, Ils Sont Blancs,” a rapid-fire barrage of love and loathing from one half of a white trash couple to the other, set to a Cajun beat. And then there was “25 Mexicans” which shows this impish guy can also tear up your soul with hard truth. Backed by the joyful and blues-loving Tom Mason, and livened up with some fancy dance steps, it was the perfect way to set up…
The Drunk Uncles! They need at least one exclamation point. Six guys with plenty of beards and good humor, the Uncles hail from East Tennessee where genuine country music still reins supreme. They brought the full Telecaster, pedal steel and fiddle contingent and the full-on cactus/rhinestone shirts, along with some big bold singing and a slow waltz tribute to their hero Vern Gosdin. “If I drink too much beer, before I get out of here,” sang Uncle Jeff, “It’s not my fault, just blame it on Vern.” And then that’s when they brought out Larry Cordle. He’s the kind of cat you almost have to move to Nashville to know about and appreciate. Revered as a bluegrass songwriter and singer, he had his biggest moment in the national spotlight a few years ago when George Strait and Alan Jackson had a hit with his song “Murder on Music Row” and the dang thing won CMA Song of The Year, a surreal triumph of irony if there ever was one. And of course, that’s what they sang last night. Thanks for visiting Cord. Please come back and sing for us again.
After that we needed something soothing, something with less twang and more yin-yang. And we got it from the wonderful and unlikely combo of Rob Ickes, Michael Alvey and Robinella. Rob and Michael met through Rob’s daughter’s school where Michael teaches music. Serendipitously, they discovered a bewitching blend of dobro and piano on jazz standards. In recording their first album together, Road Song, they brought Knoxville chanteuse Robinella in for several songs, and that’s what they did last night. The boys started with a blues and after a while Robinella came on to sing “The Nearness of You” and Hank’s “You Win Again” and “Trouble In Mind.” It’s the same fusion of country and jazz that’s made Nora Jones a big deal, but frankly with more personality. I don’t know if anybody has nicknamed Robinella Hillbillie Holliday before, but it would fit.
After serenity, audacity. Monte Montgomery came up for the closing set and brought the blazing electrified acoustic guitar he’s famous for, as well as a singer/songwriter’s touch worthy of his Austin roots and many Austin accolades. He opened with the funky “Moonlight Tango” and then got his big spontaneous ovation after a great slide-meets-fingers guitar jam on “River.” As he said in his interview, the guitar-o-technics are there to serve the song, and not the other way around. That’s certainly why our crowd dug him so much.
I’ve gone on too long. I guess many good memories were made. Funny how that seems to keep happening out at the Barn.