It often feels after a Music City Roots like we’ve heard many voices blending into a larger, never-ending stream (especially since we end the show with that big sing-along known as the Loveless Jam). It’s a perpetual reminder that Americana artists stand out there pretty naked, with no electronic assistance and no dazzling show to distract from the main event: a singer singing a song.
Last night was a big bold case in point. Not only did we feature four striking and original voices, we were treated to an a cappella group that’s figured out novel ways to blend many voices into one coherent and surprising sound.
Ben Glover opened things up with his soothing but worldly baritone, sounding older and wiser than his years. I loved his song “I Am, You Are” which dissects a crowded streetscape and explores the spaces between strangers. The great Kenny Hutson got to really stretch on a nice long break on pedal steel during the final song “To Leave Her Alone,” proving that instrumentalists have a strong voice too.
Our Vietti artist was the superb Derek Hoke. He recently got on my radar as one of the newest practitioners of classic Nashville barroom country music, and also one of the best. His honky-tonk has a loads of swing and his mellifluous, easy-going voice sets the perfect tone. Singing “I hope we make it on love/because the money’s all gone,” he smiles through the blues.
Next came the a cappella stunner. Sonos formed in L.A. just two or three years ago. They’re young and diverse in their tastes, and as member Kathy Hoye said on stage, they’ve gotten where they are (tons of national press and love) by avoiding traditional a cappella cheesiness and taking chances. They sang covers, but they re-imagined them from the ground up. Chris Isaaks’s “Wicked Game” became a fugal chiming wonder, backed by expert beat-boxing. They worked up “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes, which is the tune that got our booker Todd so interested in them. It was a revelation to see such imagination at work.
Rounding things out came the divine and mellow folk pop of Shannon Whitworth. See my preview for more about her and her spot-on sense of phrasing and dynamics. She’s a truly seductive singer with a voice that ties Gillian Welch to Billie Holiday. And Cary Hudson closed the show with a voice that came right out of the South Mississippi/Gulf Coast terrain of his long-time home. Backed by just a doghouse bass and a fiddle, he gave us some swampy country and some droning, forbidding folk in “Bloody 98” about a dangerous highway way, way down South.
Guest host Peter Cooper (who incidentally kicked the show off by pairing his voice beautifully with duo partner Eric Brace) called our meeting to a close by launching the Loveless Jam on “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” by Bob Dylan, a guy who some folks say couldn’t sing but who changed the universe by singing anyway. Goes to show there’s more to a voice than immediately meets the ear. See you next week.