As we roar into the Fall of 2013, we at Roots are easily reminded of how our year began – with a 7,000 mile journey to the palmy, balmy, parrot-rich environment of Tamworth, Australia, Nashville’s sister city below the equator. We made some great friends and had some musical discoveries and memories that will always stay with us. Our first overseas journey validated our belief that music truly does make community and communion across gulfs of distance and culture.
Our fling with Koala-Land pre-dates that trip. We’ve had a couple of Australia/Americana shows in the past, curated with the help of our pal Dobe Newton of legendary folk rock band The Bushwackers. Dobe shepherds flocks of Aussie musicians and troubadours every year for the Americana Music Association conference, so these shows have slotted in nicely in the post-AMA week. We’re joining forces with our Australian colleagues once again this Wednesday night, and squeezing in an English musical legend too, because he’ll be in town and you don’t pass up a chance to have a member of Traffic and the R&R Hall of Fame if its offered. That would be Dave Mason, son of candy shop owners in the English Midlands, who went on to have a sweet life that has so far included: forming the band Traffic, writing hits like “Feelin’ Alright,” being in Fleetwood Mac, recording with Jimi Hendrix, having a prominent solo career and collaborating with Michael Jackson, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and others. He’ll start the night with a special bonus set. And where he’ll take it is going to be a surprise for all of us.
Then it’ll be on to truly the most distinguished Australian slate we’ve had so far. It’s a real sampler from all the ages and stages of careers there. Paul Kelly is the seasoned veteran with nearly twenty studio albums to his credit. His career has had such an impact that it’s been celebrated in the documentary film Stories Of Me, which just screened during the Americana conference. Director Ian Darling said this about the motivation for the film: “Paul Kelly has managed to sing to me in a way that no other poet, story teller or musician has done. And I needed to know the reasons why. I was equally curious as to why he spoke not only to me, but to audiences across Australia of all ages and gender.” So there’s a lot to explore here, and it’ll be an honor to have a songwriter recognized by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke as a great, from Australia or anywhere.
Bill Chambers is another patriarchal figure in Australian music. Father of roots star Kasey Chambers and a long-time bandleader and producer, he’s been an anchor guy for country and folk down under. One of his collaborators is Catherine Britt, who’s scored numerous char-topping hits in her native country and earned US radio and video play as well. The Country Music Association named her Global Artist of the Year not too long ago. More to the point, she’s a fantastic singer and songwriter with a soul stirring voice. Britt and Chambers have something cooked up together for us.
I’m extremely fond of bluegrass band Mustered Courage after discovering them during our stay in Tamworth. There were these four guys – accomplished musicians and clearly bonded in that band way – playing original music deeply influenced by New Grass Revival, the Seldom Scene and contemporary peers like the Infamous Stringdusters and Frank Solivan. Banjo player Nick Keeling sings lead a lot like the SteelDrivers’ Gary Nichols, with soul power. Paddy Montgomery and Julian Abrahams are searing pickers on mandolin and guitar respectively. And the four-way vocal harmonies are a knockout. I just saw them again at their AMA Station Inn showcase, and they validated my fandom. So glad they made it over the pond for a set at our show.
Songwriter Melody Pool also earned her own AMA showcase, but then she’s already a Nashville playa. The successful artist came to Music City in 2011 to work with producer Brad Jones. That produced her debut album The Hurting Scene, which came out early this year. Pool is also a winner in the Telstra Road To Discovery competition, which launched her current trip to Nashville.
And then on a night when things couldn’t get more Australian, they will. Dobe’s Bushwackers will take the stage to offer their feisty, joyful take on country and folk. The National Library of Australia published this overview: “Arguably the catalyst for Australia’s folk revival of the 1950s, The Bushwhackers shaped the future of bush music in Australia. The band was formed in Sydney in early 1952 by pioneer folklore collector John Meredith and two of his friends. . . The band were unique in that they performed with traditional bush instruments.” That includes the lagerphone, a big bangy rattling thing that is appreantly Dobe Newton’s specialty.
I regret that I’ll be missing this show to fulfill some duties and commune with my colleagues at the International Bluegrass Music Association convention and Wide Open Bluegrass festival next week. The wise and knowledgeable Larry Nager will fill in for me. The Roots crew will then webcast the IBMA Awards on Thursday night at 6:30 central time. We hope you’ll join us for that and for Aussie night at Roots.