Visiting Fox Hollow is a rarified Nashville experience that relatively few people get to enjoy. I’m talking about the old world country estate that’s been owned since the late 1960s by Tom T. Hall and his wife Dixie. It’s over some hills from the hyper busy Cool Springs Mall – which wasn’t even a gleam in a developer’s eye when the Halls moved in – and you can hear an overtone of traffic white noise in the distance. But mostly what you hear is the wind, the creek, the birds and the Hall’s pet peacocks, which patrol the property and call out to each other that everything is fine.
About a year ago, a dozen or more of Nashville’s finest roots and Americana musicians spent the better part of a week at Fox Hollow in the Halls’ cozy recording studio producing a special album. Called I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow, it was a remake of a 1974 album of children’s songs that improbably produced three bona fide hit country records, including “Sneaky Snake” and “I Love.” Whimsical, poignant and profound, Hall’s album was inspired by a visit of two nephews from overseas who stayed at Fox Hollow for most of a summer. Tom T., who was by then already a respected and successful songwriter/artist, found himself rambling the property with these kids, seeing it through their eyes. They made up stories by day and he crafted them into songs at night.
The album reached and affected a lot of folks, adults and kids alike. And one of those kids would grow up to become Nashville based journalist/performing songwriter Peter Cooper. My former colleague from The Tennessean (where he still works as a columnist/blogger), Cooper is maybe the world’s foremost fan/expert on Tom T. Hall. He evangelizes about Tom T. with incredible depth of knowledge, and he certainly helped me see the wonder of his work. Anyway, after loving the LP as a boy and playing “Sneaky Snake” in his college band, the full grown Cooper was inspired to collaborate with his duo buddy and record label owner Eric Brace to corral a bunch of friends and talented artists into the studio for this song-for-song remake, and Tom T. welcomed them to Fox Hollow and they got down to work. Buddy Miller sang “Sneaky Snake.” Patty Griffin nailed “I Love.” Jim Lauderdale sang “I Like To Feel Pretty Inside,” which we’re sure he does. And Bobby Bare sings “I Care.” With many other fine performances besides.
So this week (ah, my point at last!) the producers of this fine, very fun project – Peter and Eric – bring many of the album’s artists and band members to the Loveless Barn for a night dedicated to the music of Tom T. Hall. Of course Peter and Eric are familiar to Roots fans; both have performed at and hosted the show. And here, they prove their stature as ambassadors of great music by assembling this killer lineup. Former BR549 leader Gary Bennett will sing “The Barn Dance,” which of course we couldn’t be without. Cooper and Brace have also helped the marvelous singer Fayssoux McLean make her long-deserved solo debut recording, and she’ll be there. Buddy Miller, the King of Americana if there is one, will be making his Roots debut, thanks to their efforts. And we’ll have some talent not on the album but inspired by Tom T. nonetheless. Matraca Berg is going to sing “I Love” for us (swoon). And we’ll hear from the very cool duo Doug & Telisha Williams as well.
As with the I Love sessions, the guys from Red Beet Records are bringing a stunning band along. The great guitarist Duane Eddy is going to be on hand to bring twang where there needs to be twang. Pedal steel genius Lloyd Green, now a Red Beet veteran, will add sparkle and lyricism. They worked with younger pals like bassist Mike Bub and keys player Jen Gunderman. They’ll be on hand as well.
And, we can’t say this with enough excitement and anticipation, Mr. Tom T. will be on our stage as well offering the closing set. (The homagers and the homagee together on one stage!) Hall really is among the most perceptive, literary writers to ever have hits in Nashville. “Harper Valley PTA” is just the tip of a very big iceberg. I’m sure we’ll hear some of Hall’s other classics on Wednesday.
I had the pleasure of producing a feature about the album this summer for NPR’s Weekend Edition. And in that story, Tom T. sums up the project’s origins beautifully: “It was something I wanted to say that I’d never had an excuse to say before,” he said. “I think most entertainers are childlike anyway. Entertaining is a childlike thing. It’s a frivolity. When I started following these kids around and I saw the world the way they did — and I’m being selfish about this — I didn’t write this album for my nephews, and not for kids in general. I just wrote it for myself. The child in me, you might say, if that’s not too poetic.”
Bring your children and your inner child on Wed and feel the poetry.