Variety Show

Folks, I’ve just returned from two remarkable days at our sister show Bluegrass Underground, watching the team shoot the show’s second season for PBS. I’ll write more about this soon, but for now suffice it to say that I was overwhelmed and moved by the experience. Todd, John and company assembled a top-of-the-world lineup and staged a pristine looking and sounding festival in the under-world, and I saw performances by the Del McCoury Band, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, The Civil Wars, Sarah Jarosz and the Time Jumpers that I’ll never forget. Our own host Jim Lauderdale played a magnificent acoustic set that also happened to be the funniest of the weekend. No surprise there.

I bring this up because I’m inspired and because I’m proud of the BU team, which is nearly the same gang that stages Music City Roots. And I bring it up because it’s a reminder that we don’t get careers like the headliners on this next season of BU without shows that showcase the awesomely talented developing artists and rising stars of roots music. That’s what I think of as I look over next Wednesday’s show. Nobody on the bill is a star (yet), but I’m sure it’s going to be one of those weeks of discovery and fascination where we get to hear a true variety show from artists who definitely have something to say.

SHEL is a trip. Four sisters who grew up in some kind of super-alternative artist colony circumstances in Fort Collins, Colorado took classical music training, smashed it at the atomic level and reassembled the pieces into something new. They’re a dynamic, daring group built largely around layered, ethereal vocals but with strong rhythmic/instrumental intrigue as well. They seem to have released three EPs, and they’re working with Nashville super-producer and songwriter Brent Maher, so a studio album must be in the works at some level. I’ll ask.

None of the music I’ve heard online from songwriter W.B. Givens sounds explicitly like the music of the North Mississippi Hill Country where he grew up, but the rustic musical integrity of the area and the larger Mississippi blues ethos has certainly influenced him. Now based in East Nashville and sharing dates with friends of ours like Pokey LaFarge and the Little Country Giants, Givens is earning respect for his plainspoken songs.

Youth seems to be a theme this week, and songwriter Taylor Brashears is just around twenty years old. We’ve seen her at Roots before, as part of the Supple Station Trio, but now she’s doing her own thing. That thing began in bluegrass, but she’s casting a wide net, and we’ll get to hear the music she’s worked on with super fiddler Tammy Rogers, who agreed to act as Taylor’s producer. This should be interesting.

Two other artists are making return visits, and they both hew to a timeless sound. Ryan Cook makes country music of the type that ought to be on the radio. Pure songs and easy melodies, delivered with honesty and grace. His current album Peaks & Valleys, which happens to have been produced by our own John Walker, was named album of the year by Canada’s Country Music News. That’s where Cook is from, so it’s okay. And finally, we’ll be treated to a performance by the outstanding Woody Pines, a guy and his band rooted in all that’s rootsy. It’s a little Jimmy Rogers, a little Charlie Patton, a little Tom Waits. It’s as unpretentious as it is entertaining and nourishing. We’re excited to have him/them back.

So get out of your cave. Come to the barn. Tell your friends. This is a week to see five remarkable emerging artists. You may surprise yourself and leave with five CDs.

Craig H.

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