As you may know, we were in Australia recently and if you’d asked me if I knew anyone in Australia I would have said no way, nobody. But then there I was, walking around the streets of Tamworth, New South Wales, getting the lay of the land on our first full day, and lo and behold, I run into an Australian I DID know. It was Henry Wagons! He of the unmistakable heavy glasses and shaggy visage. He of the jovial, high voltage personality. What a perfect welcome wagon, if you will. And you who follow our adventures at Roots will recall that Henry Wagons played a balls-to-the-wall solo set last February. He stomped the stage and cajoled the crowd. He bellowed an homage to Willie Nelson and climbed into the seats. It was brazen and awesome.
Henry is back this week as part of a typically diverse MCR lineup that’ll journey from Down Under to Oklahoma to Birmingham to East Tennessee and Nashville too.
Wagons, whether playing solo or with his ramshackle collective of a band, is a big draw in Australia — especially his home base of Melbourne, which we learned was Aussie’s artsy city – its Portland and its San Francisco. He’s charismatic and whimsical and weird. But I couldn’t possibly top the description some clever wordsmith offered in Henry’s official bio: “Henry draws upon an uncommon range of influences including jumpsuit-era Elvis, the grit between the floorboards at the Ole’ Opry, the spit in 70’s trumpet sections, Cormac McCarthy’s psychedelic Westerns and Lee Hazlewood’s dead but potent stares. His live show is a performance like no other, treading a line between a Vegas 70s showroom extravaganza and a bunch of freshfaced undertakers letting loose at a rained sodden rock festival.” Yeah, what they said.
Henry has recently released “Expecting Company?”, a seven-song EP/mini-album of duets and collaborations with key indie artists including Alison Mosshart of The Kills and The Dead Weather. With songs of typically wicked evocations like “A Hangman’s Work Is Never Done” and “I’m In Love With Mary Magdelene,” Henry continues his run of cheeky fun. That project will be his calling card on his current US run, culminating in a bunch of sets at South By Southwest.
We also are excited as we can be to welcome another shockingly good and original songwriter to back to our stage. Samantha Crain wove her way into my psyche a few years ago with 2009’s Songs In The Night with her band The Midnight Shivers. The melodies were mesmerizing and her voice, flush with twisty vowels and personal idiosyncrasies, asserted itself as unique and important. Her performance at Roots a year ago was a favorite of mine, and as such we decided to include her song “Santa Fe” on an upcoming digital compilation of the best Roots songs from 2012. It’s easy to find others who adore Crain. MTV spotlighted her recently. Paste has praised her “quivering, emotive and visceral” vocals.
Crain arrives in Nashville during release week of her new Ramseur Records project Kid Face, which I’ve had at home for a few weeks. It’s a bit mellower and more personal than her last release. And it’s bound to impress. It comes by its analog warmth honestly, having been recorded on tape entirely in the old school method with nary a computer on site. Opener “Never Going Back” has a purist alt-country quality that would nestle up well on radio next to something by Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary. (The video is a trip too). The title track is cryptic but seems to be about discovering and asserting an identity in a confusing and sometimes cruel world. “Somewhere All The Time” benefits from hooky rhythmic qualities that made her song “It’s Simple” such an infectious confection. We hope you find something infectious in Crain’s mature and measured songs.
In addition, we’ll hear from the remarkable songwriter Ed Snodderly whose works I’ve enjoyed most recently coming out of the lungs and throat of Missy Raines, his former band-mate who has tapped Ed for masterpieces like “Basket of Singing Birds.” There’s a reason Snodderly has lyrics literally carved in stone in the Country Music Hall of Fame. He’s really accomplished. Also on the bill is my friend and yours Shawn Byrne, a gifted guitarist and songwriter, sideman and bandleader. I was delighted to see he has a new album out. It dropped last fall and it has the wonderful title Pine Trees, Cheap Wine And The Moon. Which sounds like a good date. Byrne mingles country, pop, bluegrass and gospel with a deft touch. Finally we’re welcoming emerging artists Banditos, who’ve been making major noise and making many friends in and around their hometown of Birmingham, AL. Good things have come from that part of the world, you know. Like, oh, Hank Williams.
So hitch up your wagons and roll out to the Loveless Barn on Wednesday. We’ll see you there.