A special charismatic energy always attends the arrival of La Terza Classe, the old time string band quintet from Naples Italy. I’ve rarely seen people who seem so glad to be alive, on the road, playing music. And they were just part of a gathering tribe of visitors on a rapturously gorgeous spring evening this week. Beloved Nashville bass player Dave Roe and drummer Rick Lonow were on hand. Friendly Mike Webb was in the green room too. My good Tulsa-based friend Jared Tyler was in town to play and sing with Malcolm Holcombe. And I even had my own family on hand to supplement my Roots family, with my wife and daughter accompanying relatives from Texas. So the stage was set for a warm and sunny show at the end of a warm and sunny day.
There’s a poise to Ana Cristina Cash that comes from singing in all kinds of settings all her life, but polish is no deficit if the songs and singing are excellent, and they were. She’s got a torchy retro side that calls to mind Nancy Sinatra or Bobbie Gentry. Her original “Southern Roots” was a spooky and gothic tale of death and revenge. The R&B strains of “Tough Love Woman” offered the best chance for her to stretch her lustrous and controlled voice. So a cover of “Seminole Wind” was a bonus.
Vocal power and grace continued to be at the fore when Kenny and Amanda Smith took the stage with their bluegrass five-piece. Amanda, an IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, brings sweet fruity tone with an edge like a Bowie knife. And that was on display from the opening notes of “You Know That I Would.” Their approach to songs is to elevate and manipulate bluegrass ideas in ways that make the genre sound brand new. But the core is so there, as with Kenny’s ripping “Black Mountain Rag.” Dang I loved the stretchy and novel harmonies on “Randall Collins,” one of my favorite old tunes. And closer “Wherefore & Why” by Gordon Lightfoot was melody, melody, melody.
With any young band that cycles back to Roots, I’m always on the lookout for evolution and improvement, and with La Terza Classe it couldn’t have been more clear. Learning a foreign folk idiom is challenging, from the meaning of the arcane language to the even more difficult issue of feel and groove. But man, LTC is getting it. They drove and swung, sounding like a bluegrass or jug band that could hold its own on any stage. “Molly and Tennbrooks” opened with a cool a cappella vocal intro and then whisked along like the racehorses in its title. Biagio Daniele’s harmonica has always been stellar. New member Corrado Ciervo played fiddle with gypsy fire and gorgeous tone. A set closing duet with Jim Lauderdale (and a bi-lingual “Happy Birthday” to the newly minted 60-year-old) couldn’t have been more appropriate.
After this ebullient and bright hat trick of artists, the steely eyed Malcolm Holcombe on his chair with one accompanist would have been seen by conventional programmers as a mistake. (“Get me a country star!”) But screw that. Malcolm may present a forbidding façade, but his songs are heart-stopping and strangely beautiful. The dance between his guitar and Jared Tyler’s dobro, plus their simpatico voices, was something to behold. They know each other. Dave Roe (who’d started the evening playing bass with Ana Cristina) came out for the last two songs, including a rich song of the land. Malcolm prefaced his final song with a raspy and beautiful short speech about how much we do not by any means need a Wall. The show itself was evidence of that.